Colorado Rolls Out New State Inspection Program

Jason Trubee, former operations manager for a Denver food manufacturer, recently “got to do what he likes best” during a visit to Celestial Seasonings recently: instead of conducting an outright inspection, he had the opportunity to “learn about a global producer while educating some of its managers about Colorado’s new [inspection] program.”

Trubee, now an inspector with the State Manufactured Food Program, experienced inspections as arduous and multi-day affairs “that might leave his company with problems he didn’t know how to fix” in his previous job, he said.

The new program is funded by fees, and acts as a resource for all firms in the state that produce, package or hold food for human consumption. The aim of the program is not additional regulation, but instead focuses on education and collaboration between state and industry.

“Inspections most often result in the inspector working with the manufacturer on solutions to food safety violations,” and there are frequent training programs offered throughout the state.

John Strauss, program manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explained that “instead of going out and hitting people with a hammer,” the program is “teaching folks what they need to be doing and building relationships with them.”

Over 1,800 food manufacturers are currently registered with the state (a requirement for all companies that manufacture food). The capacity to conduct numerous inspections has been lacking over the years, so “many companies haven’t been inspected in a long time.” One program goal is to visit – or at least contact – all of those companies within the next five years. Though that might seem like a long period, it is nothing compared to the time between most companies’ last inspections and today.

In fact, there was no state-directed inspection program at all until the state legislature provided additional resources last year. This remains the case in most states, which see inspections limited to the approximately 250 inspections that the state conducts annually for the FDA in addition to the 50-80 that the FDA conducts itself. Additionally, the FDA and FDA-sponsored inspections “come with rigid requirements,” while the state program “has more flexibility, both in the facilities it chooses to inspect and in how and when inspections are conducted.”

Like the FDA inspections, most state inspections “are, by necessity, unscheduled,” but Trubee says that the state program allows inspectors the flexibility “to come back another day if the timing is really bad for the facility…that helps us build rapport right off the bat.”

“Right now, we want to contact as many places as possible and tell them about our goals, motives and processes, but one of the most important things is to find out what we can do for the manufacturer,” Trubee said.

The state inspectors are looking for basic issues related to food safety: poor or inadequate production methods, pests, broken machinery, and unsafe employee practices. The director of the program says that working with new manufacturers is an important component. Simply taking time to walk through a new facility can yield new suggestions that have the capability to improve health and safety — and have the added benefit of saving the business money and rework.

New Colorado Inspection Program Could Have Prevented 2011 Listeria Outbreak

In terms of food safety, state inspections are not a small matter. Both Strauss and Trubee isolate the 2011 listeria outbreak that was caused by contaminated Colorado cantaloupe. The two
agree that today’s collaborative approach potentially could have averted a tragedy that killed 33 people in 28 states.”

Strauss said that “if we had a strong working relationship with the producers, maybe they would have called and told us they wanted to use an untraditional piece of equipment to clean melons, we could have had a conversation and possibly steered them in a different direction.”

“A lot of firms just do their own thing, but now we can be proactive. The ultimate goal is the production of safe food in Colorado. There was a need for this program.”