State Departments of Agriculture

Each state has an agency that oversees agricultural affairs and facility inspections. Typically, the agency is a department of agriculture, although other departments may be involved such as a health department or commercial trading regulator. The state department of agriculture's interests lie in assisting the state's agricultural producers to bring foodstuffs to market as well as regulating and inspecting facilities. Neither growers nor processors share data with the states other than what the law requires.

For example, in Nebraska, state inspectors rely on federal law 21 CFR 110, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing or Holding Human Food in enforcing minimum acceptable conditions in food processing facilities. An inspector looks for evidence of physical problems, such as improperly maintained equipment, inappropriate temperature settings, and loose screws or metal shavings that can fall into foodstuffs. The inspector also investigates for signs of biological contamination, such as rodent droppings, insect infestations (in grain silos), and mold, as well as evidence of improper hygiene or sterilization procedures.

Manufacturing or storage facilities may undergo inspection by the state only twice a year; thus, at any given time, the data for a given state-inspected facility will be an average of a few months old.

States inspect silos that store grain for export more frequently than those that store grain destined for domestic use. Countries buying grain from U.S. producers may require certification that the grain is free of contamination and may even require that the U.S. exporter fumigate the shipment (Reiman, 2005). Growers and processors have no obligation to report to the government every food safety problem that they detect occurring in the course of their business.

Some states perform rigorous inspections of produce, although this testing is not disease oriented, rather, it seeks to ensure the consistent quality and appearance of fruit and vegetable shipments. The inspections also have a sanitary function. Inspectors look for signs of rot and presence of rodents and agricultural pests; insects on the unwanted lists depend on the state and produce involved. For example, in Florida, more than 90% of citrus fruits are destined for juice extraction. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) inspectors evaluate fruit for the presence of decay and maturity (defined by the ratio of sugar to acid according to a Brix scale, a method of measuring the density or concentration of sugar in a substance at a given temperature) and measure pound solids (a volumetric determination which governs how much buyers pay for the fruit). The department contracts with the USDA to inspect the extracted juice for color, foreign matter, flavor, oil, and Brix/acid ratio for purposes of grading the juice. Oranges shipped out of state for processing may fall under other organizations' inspection demands (such as the New York Board of Trade) regarding juice futures, or the USDA Commodity Purchase Program (which supplies food to school lunch programs).

FDACS stores inspection data on a database, www.citranet.net, and posts weekly summaries to a site where anyone can download them, http://www.citranet.net/DownloadsCN.asp. The state does not release producer-specific results owing to a public records exemption for trade secrets. The facilities themselves have log-ons and passwords to view their own results, as do suppliers.

Biosurveillance system operators would be interested in any data pertaining to the distribution of spoiled or contaminated fruit. However, they would want the fruit producers to submit data that are considered proprietary and to do so more frequently than weekly. Hence, at minimum, the biosurveillance system operators would have to negotiate legal agreements that protect trade secrets, as well as pay the costs involved in arranging the data transfers.

As is the case in food animal production, producers of citrus crops, reasoning that their market-driven quality standards exceed the standards set by the state of Florida, are proposing that an HACCP process replace routine full-time in-plant state inspections. The HACCP process would result in fruit processors' collecting large amounts of data, which biosurveillance system operators could try to access. Such data would facilitate environmental investigations (as discussed in Chapter 3).

States and/or local agencies inspect restaurants and food stores, grading them for safe food handling practices, cleanliness, and adherence to food safety codes. The state learns of problems through these periodic inspections, epidemiological investigations, or citizen complaints at the retail level, which are then traced back to a source.

States and/or local agencies store inspection and complaint data in a variety of ways. Some agencies maintain databases, others store records on paper, and others use combinations of paper and computer records. The computerized records may not always be in a form easily accessible for biosurveillance purposes.

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