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3-rd party audit before listeria outbreak largely ignored FDA guidelines

January 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A third-party auditing company that gave a Colorado cantaloupe farm a "superior" rating just before a deadly listeria outbreak largely ignored government food safety guidelines, according to a new, bi-partisan congressional report.

A bipartisan report released Tuesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee quoted a representative of the auditing company, Primus Labs, as saying the audits are not intended to help clients improve food safety standards. Retailers often rely on such audits to make sure food they buy is safe.

Members of the panel asked the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on such third-party auditing companies, who often are the only outside entities to inspect food facilities.

A law signed last year will boost FDA inspections of such facilities, but funds to carry out those inspections are not guaranteed from Congress.

The FDA does not regulate third-party auditors. The food safety law requires the agency to improve third-party audits of food facilities abroad that export to the United States, but does not address domestic audits.

A spokeswoman for the FDA said in a statement that new standards under a law enacted last year will still go a long way toward improving food safety.

The listeria outbreak in cantaloupe last fall was the deadliest outbreak of food borne illness in 25 years. Thirty people died, 146 people were sickened and one woman suffered a miscarriage after eating the tainted cantaloupe, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA said in October that pools of dirty water on the floor and old, hard-to-clean equipment at Holly, Colo.-based Jensen Farms probably were to blame.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.