Thousands of food manufacturers, supermarkets, bakeries, and other food-related businesses were found operating without valid food inspections because the state cannot keep up with demand, a state audit Thursday found.
The state Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Division of Food Safety and Inspection is in charge of inspecting more than 31,000 food-related businesses, Gannett’s Ashley Hupfl reported.
Unable to keep up with the demand of its inspection schedule, the food safety division allowed 493 new establishments to serve the public without inspection and almost 5,000 establishments needed inspection renewals from April 1, 2011, to June 4, 2013, the audit found. The agency doesn’t handle restaurant inspections.
“Food safety is critical for the health and well-being of New Yorkers, but the Department of Agriculture and Markets is quickly falling behind in its responsibilities to make sure what the public is eating is safe,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The department needs to take immediate steps to maximize its resources and address the backlog of past-due inspections.”
In its response in the audit, the Department of Agriculture and Markets agreed with DiNapoli’s recommendations and said it has already taken steps to implement them. There was no immediate comment from the agency Thursday.
The food safety division received 5,724 consumer complaints for investigation, and inspectors obtained 3,894 food samples for testing to identify potential food safety violations during the period, the audit said.
A random sample 45 new establishments found license applications expired for an average of six months, and 19 of those businesses were preparing food without the required inspection. The audit didn’t mention any businesses by name.
To meet food safety requirements, inspectors must conduct 30,000 to 36,000 inspections annually, or 2.2 inspections per day by each inspector. The audit found each inspector completed an average of 1.7 inspections per day.
The food safety division has a staff of 82 inspectors, which is 37 percent below the amount of staff recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the audit said.
DiNapoli recommended the department create new policies for work schedules and time allowances for local travel to be more time effective. The audit also recommended prioritizing and ensuring inspections for new establishments and providing real-time access to data among agency divisions.