Thursday, April 14, 2011

Inspections lack surprise

If you’re speeding and get warning that there’s a policeman with radar over the hill, you slow down to the speed limit.  You’re not caught and disciplined, so you probably continue to speed.

There appear to be lots of warnings for egg farmers and grading stations that the enforcers are coming, so few are caught and disciplined.

Take egg quota violations, for example. Egg Farmers of Ontario checks hen numbers when the birds are 23 weeks old. Farmers know when an inspector is coming. If they’re over the limit, they naturally cull their flock to get under the wire. But until then, they could be housing more hens to make more profit.

Take egg grading stations. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency sends advisories that it is coming to check compliance, often a couple of weeks in advance. There may be some merit to advance warning so the company can have its HACCP records ready for inspection, but there is certainly no merit when it comes to checking day-to-day sanitation practices and automated egg grading.

Some retail chains have hired the Guelph Food Technology Centre to conduct audits for them.  In these cases, too, there has been advance warning.  I am told that signs have gone up in at least one plant to advise staff to practice “zero tolerance” on those days.

The federal and provincial governments have granted egg farmers extraordinary powers over production and pricing, but in return have asked them to provide the public with a steady supply of safe and wholesome eggs.  Egg farmers who value supply management and want to retain public trust surely realize that discipline is crucial, especially related to food safety. 

The management at Egg Farmers of Ontario is surely aware of the possibility that some members cheat on production limits, so why not have some more surprise inspections?  The management is obviously aware now of allegations that cracks have made it into the Grade A table market, posing a risk to food safety, so what has it done?