The US Government Accounting Office (GOA) said Friday that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not consistently following key procedures or meeting key goals when it sends warning letters to seafood companies regarding potential food safety violations from imported seafood.
The report was requested by Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro and Senators Richard Blumenthal, Dianne Feinstein, Patty Murray, and Elizabeth Warren.
In a report, the GAO laid out recommendations the FDA should follow to upgrade its warning and monitoring systems.
The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of most imported seafood. It relies, in part, on inspections of importers' facilities and of processors' foreign facilities to ensure compliance with federal law.
If FDA identifies significant violations, such as firms not identifying food safety hazards likely to occur during processing, the agency can issue the firm a warning letter.
When the FDA issues a warning letter based on significant inspection violations, the agency has a goal to conduct a follow-up inspection within six months, something the GAO found is not happening in in a majority of cases.
Of the 167 warning letters GAO reviewed, 125 were based on significant inspection violations. FDA met its six-month goal for 14 (11 percent) of these 125 letters.
For 56 (45 percent) of these letters, the FDA conducted a follow-up inspection more than six months after the warning letter was issued -- on average, about two years.
For the remaining 44 percent, FDA had not conducted a follow-up inspection, as of March 11, 2020.
GAO recommended the FDA establish a process to monitor whether the agency is following the procedures and meeting the goals established for its warning letter process for imported seafood, and develop performance goals and measures to assess how effective warning letters are at ensuring the safety of imported seafood.
The FDA agreed with GAO's recommendations, according to the report.