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Monday, September 24, 2012 - 12:15pm

Food Makers May Be Avoiding Law

A report suggests Georgia food manufacturers aren't following a new law aimed at increasing food safety.

A critical audit comes three years after a deadly salmonella outbreak prompted lawmakers to mandate new testing.

Auditors accompanied state food inspectors on tours of 11 facilities.

The audit said about half of the companies weren't doing required tests.

The firms either didn't understand the law or were waiting on state regulators to review their plans.

Bryan Tolar of the Georgia Agribusiness Council says, the law should be measured by food safety -- not state violations.

"We can have someone say, police have gone out and written thousands more speeding tickets than we've ever seen before," Tolar says. "The question is: How many accidents, how much safer are people on those highways? That's what I want to know. I don't care how many tickets you write. I want to know how safe people are."

Auditors said about 7,500 tests should've been conducted on final food products.

But just seven positive tests were reported.

Tolar says, consumer health is more important than writing up violations.

"Georgia has one of the most, if not the most, strict food safety audits that are in place from this new law. So we need to give it time," Tolar says. "We need to be educators. But we also need to be enforcers. As long as consumers are protected, then the job is being accomplished."

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black says, his department is still educating manufacturers about the requirements.

"The findings in this audit reaffirmed the Department's internal results, which were previously identified through strategic planning and self-assessments when I first came into office," said Black. "Through these discoveries, we identified several opportunities for improvement, and have developed a roadmap for implementation. The Department will continue to employ new and improved processes for the way we oversee food safety operations in Georgia, which will benefit both stakeholders and consumers."

A department spokeswoman says that over the past year, Georgia food safety inspectors have received over 6,000 of training hours.