Oregon’s 12,000 grocery stores, egg handlers, bakeries, shellfish and seafood outlets, food storage warehouses, locker plants, licensed domestic kitchens, beverage processors, and meat and dairy facilities are not getting inspected enough by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

And its become a bit embarrassing because the Statesman Journal newspaper first reported on the problem four years ago, and two years ago the state did an audit of its own and later claimed it was all caught up. But it was not so, and the newspaper is now reporting that Oregon’s Food Safety Program “remains in disarray.”

It’s probably worth noting that restaurant and school cafeteria inspections are not at risk. County health departments in association with the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Education conduct those inspections.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture(ODA) has responsibility for all the rest. Some, like grocery stores, should be inspected twice a year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2014, the Statesman Journal found 55 percent of Oregon’s food establishments hadn’t seen an inspector in at least one year, and 5 percent had gone more than three years with no inspection.

The newspaper probe prompted the Secretary of State’s Audit Division to launch its look at all food safety licenses, not just retail outlets. It found one-quarter of all inspections were past due, and there was no system to make sure all food operations were licensed.

By 2017, the state claimed the problem solved with dramatic reductions in past-due inspections. But that proved to be a “database error,” not reality.

The state made it look better by reclassifying licenses into lower risk categories. That was permitted under the U.S. Food Code, which leaves such classifications to the states, but it did not really change anything.

Once the database error was adjusted, Oregon was even further behind.

The backlog has left Oregon with only one place to turn. They are asking for help from the public, urging anyone who sees or suspects food safety problems to report them to state officials immediately. “The public can help ODA ensure their food is safe,” said a spokeswoman.

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