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State audit finds ODA food safety inspections lagging


An audit released Tuesday by Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins finds that the Oregon Department of Agriculture is behind on its food safety inspections.

“ODA was candid with our auditors,” Atkins said. “They were struggling with this backlog of inspections and asked for our help to identify ways to eliminate it.”

The Food Safety Program is responsible for regulating more than 12,000 food safety licenses in the state of Oregon. These include food processors, dairies, and grocery stores. ODA generally does not regulate restaurants.

Auditors found that, as of October 2016, 2,841 licenses were past due for an inspection by more than three months.

The Food Safety Program operates primarily on revenue from the fees businesses pay for licenses. However, they also receive funding from the Federal Food and Drug Administration to inspect some businesses in Oregon on behalf of FDA.

While these FDA inspections help fund the program, the audit found ODA could perform more inspections overall and possibly reduce the backlog if the agency were to reduce this workload. The audit team also identified ways in which inspectors could more efficiently and consistently conduct inspections.

One big challenge facing the program is turnover of staff. Since 2006, 28 of the 38 inspector positions have turned over, some due to retirement. ODA is also facing challenges retaining supervisors who oversee inspectors, due to the demands of the workload and unsatisfactory compensation.

The audit also found that, despite having a new data system for food safety inspections, the food safety program was not tracking or analyzing key data that could help managers better run the program.

“Keeping data on program performance is critical when deciding how to improve operations,” Atkins said. “We found ODA could better inform its decision-making process by simply looking at the information they are already gathering.”

The audit recommends ODA reconsider some of its FDA contract workload, provide more guidance to inspectors, and better track and analyze data.

To help the program better achieve its mission, auditors recommend ODA develop policies and procedures to improve oversight of inspectors and develop partnerships with other agencies.

And to address some of the staffing challenges, auditors recommend the program develop a succession plan for retiring inspectors and address the challenges facing supervisors.

Read the complete Secretary of State audit, including recommendations to ODA and the agency’s response, at the agency’s website.

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