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Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 2:00am

Ag Dept. Shifts To Risk-Based Inspections

Updated: 2 years ago.
State auditors found in the six months before a recently released audit, the state agriculture department had not inspected nearly half of the food processing facilities that posed the greatest risk of potential contamination. The department is now shifting its inspection schedules to give priority to plants based on their contamination risk. (Freshly roasted coffee beans photo courtesy of yenhoon via stock.xchng.)

A state audit released last month said the Georgia Department of Agriculture isn’t doing enough inspections of the highest-risk food processing plants in the state. The department is changing that this month by starting to inspect the riskiest plants more often. (Click here to read the department’s full response to the audit.)

State auditors found in the six months before the audit, the department had not inspected nearly half of the facilities that posed the greatest risk of potential contamination. For four in 10, it had been a year or more.

The state agriculture department has aimed to visit each of the 700-plus food processing facilities every six months since the inspection program began a few years ago. But officials will now prioritize by risk.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said the department was moving toward the risk-based schedule before the auditor’s report.

“Rather than just saying we ought to go in every plant once a year, it just makes sense to have an individual evaluation [of each plant’s risk] and then get our teams of people directed in the proper way,” Black said.

He said plants making fresh fruit juice can have more potential problems than a bakery, for example.

“[The plants have] a product that you have to have good temperature control. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things that have to be cleaned, have to be sterilized over an amount of time, and those things that have a real short shelf life,” he said.

The new approach is for plants that produce or handle everything from beverages to sandwiches. Poultry and meat processing plants are handled differently.

At a bare minimum, officials will visit plants every 18 months. But that would be for very low risk facilities with no compliance problems.