Most everybody knows that state food safety programs are essential, but new data collected by the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) puts it into perspective with some actual numbers.

Consider, for example, that the states in 2019 conducted more than 84.5 percent of the 48,500 human food inspections at the manufacturing level. The Food and Drug Administration directly performed 3,500 human food manufacturing inspections and contracted with states for another 4,000.

The states themselves inspected more than 41,000 human food manufacturing facilities.

AFDO’s 2021 State Food Safety Resources Survey opted to skip over the year 2020 to focus on a comprehensive look at 2019 before the pandemic began up-ending everyone’s routine.

“The extensive work accomplished by states in manufactured food highlights how key these state programs are to regulatory oversight of these facilities,” said AFDO Executive Director Steven Mandemach. “Absent this oversight, many more food emergencies –outbreaks and recalls would result.

The AFDO survey, funded by FDA, looked at state food inspections and other regulatory work, including compliance actions and laboratory analyses, conducted to promote food safety. It covers state regulatory actions involving food manufacturing and retail foods, including milk, produce, meat, poultry, and shellfish.

“State food safety programs provide critical service for the public by ensuring the safety of the foods consumers eat,” says AFDO President Natalie Adan. “Regulators are continually working with industry to control factors that may lead to food contamination or foodborne illness, and this survey illustrates the need these resources address.”

The fact that states perform some food safety activities more frequently than the federal oversight program should not come as a surprise, but the survey puts numbers to the role of the states. The survey highlighted:

  • 1,262,668 inspections.
  • 37,731 compliance actions
  • 355,772 laboratory analyses
  • 1,604,817 pounds of adulterated food
  •  $31,383,272 worth of embargoed or quarantined by states.

State retail food inspections totaled 968,195, with meat and poultry inspections totaling 129,950, and Grade A milk, 112,522. Manufactured food inspections came in at 45,995. There were 4,885 shellfish inspections by the states, and 1,121 produced specific check-ups.

Departments of Agriculture, Health, and other state regulatory agencies responded to the AFDO survey. The states in 2019 responded to 30,965 food safety complaints that resulted in investigations. The states also imposed a total of $8,769,588 in various monetary penalties.

States ordered the condemnation and destruction of 2,679,805 pounds of food valued at more than $17 million.

License and permit charges and registration fees fund 89 percent of state revenue to operate food safety programs. Fees are based on different factors, including risk, facility or product type, square footage, revenue, number of employees, and other things.

Some risk factors come into play by the states 86 percent of the time.

State programs split on whether an FDA inspection is complete and not needing repetition. Fifty-six percent say state inspection is still required, while 44 percent are good with FDA’s work.

FDA data is the starting point for the next state inspection 75 percent of the time, and the other 25 percent of state programs do not keep track of FDA data. And 70 percent of the state programs do not provide their inspection findings to FDA.

During 2019, the states inspected 29,108 of 69,069 food processors and 9,605 of 28,294 food warehouses.

Interestingly, 56 percent of the state programs do not have a full-time staff dedicated to foodborne illness investigations.

Where a state has more than one agency with food safety oversight, 72 percent reported meeting with one another regularly. And 91 percent report having a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the other agency.

State Departments of Agriculture regulate cottage foods in 43 percent of the states. Health Departments have the job in 27 percent of states and other agencies in 20 percent. Local governments are solely responsible in 10 percent of the jurisdictions.

The 63-page summary of the AFDO survey reports that 70 percent of the states do not require food handler training but that 63 percent do require food manager certification for the person in charge of a food establishment. And 63 percent say state personnel “standardize local inspectors” conducting retail inspections.

States inspected 31,207 milk producers 69,665 times during 2019. The states investigated 106 of 111 consumer complaints about Grade A milk products. The states performed 18 traceback investigations and 28 investigations overall involving Grade A milk. Firms under their jurisdictions were involved in 152 recalls.

While most meat and poultry inspection is federally regulated, the state’s have a share too. The states performed 129,950 reviews of meat and poultry and related establishments. The states are responsible for 739 of small slaughterhouses, which received most of the attention.

Rendering plants, live animal markets, pet food, wild game, and various retail and custom facilities also fall in this category under state jurisdiction.

The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) is an international, non-profit organization that works to stay at the forefront of streamlining and simplifying regulations by either drafting regulatory rules or by commenting on government proposals.

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