Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Flood Of Food Imported to U.S., But Only 2 Percent Inspected

EAST LOS ANGELES, Calif. — At a sprawling warehouse here, two investigators from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration watched intently as 50 boxes of preserved bean curd from China were emptied into a grinding machine.

The monstrously loud apparatus worked its way through 1,800 glass bottles, grinding the glass and spewing out a stream of chunky yellow ooze that would be collected, treated and disposed of in the sewer system.

FDA investigators had decided that the bottles of bean curds were improperly heat-sealed and, as a result, were susceptible to harmful bacteria like botulism, which can be fatal.
The case of the destroyed bean curds was relatively straightforward: They had been flagged as suspect as soon as they arrived in port due to a defective heat seal and were sent directly to an FDA warehouse for testing.

That’s not always how it happens.

The FDA’s Los Angeles district is one of the busiest in the U. S., overseeing the inspection of more than half a million food shipments arriving through 24 ports of entry in the L.A. area. Through the port stream products like Cambodian rice by the ton, tapioca pearls from the Philippines, tea biscuits from China, sugar cane and fish from around the world.

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