U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase the number of food facility inspections it performs and deal out greater fines to facilities found to have unsanitary conditions. He also called for an “easily accessible, real-time” source of information for restaurants and consumers who want to know about the conditions of the facilities that produce or warehouse their food. According to a press release from Schumer’s office on Monday, in 2014, FDA cited more than 90 food warehouses and other facilities around the country for unsanitary conditions, including rat infestations. Food from those facilities could pose a public health threat, Schumer said. The press release cited a number of examples of facilities that received warnings, including a Brooklyn-based food warehouse containing rodent carcasses and feces, as well as insects at a rice producer and dead mice and rats at a cookie-production facility. FDA currently inspects “high risk” food facilities once every three years, while other facilities are inspected even less often. Even facilities with minor problems should be inspected more often than once every three years, he said. Schumer outlined a three-part plan he feels would rectify seemingly widespread problems with food facility sanitation:

  1. More inspections. Any facility with problems that merit a warning letter from FDA should be immediately categorized as “high risk.” FDA should also increase the number of inspections for high-risk facilities. When facilities provide evidence that they are no longer high risk, they return to a lower classification.
  2. Searchable database of problematic facilities. Restaurants and consumers need a clearer way to tell whether or not they’re receiving food from clean facilities. “The FDA should provide an easy to find, search and navigate database of these facilities and their violations on their website or through another forum FDA believes can most effectively inform consumers,” the press release stated.
  3. Increased penalties for violations. For fiscal year 2015, the fees associated with re-inspections of problematic facilities were estimated at $217 per hour. That’s not a heavy enough fine to encourage strict compliance with food safety regulations, Schumer said.
FDA archives its warning letters to food facilities on its website. Food Safety News provides a summary of the agency’s most recent warning letters every Monday.