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Statement from President Susan Kent on Comptroller’s audit on food inspections

PEF agrees with state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli that food safety is critical for the health and well-being of New Yorkers. If the state Department of Agriculture and Markets is falling behind in its responsibilities, it is because the state continues to ignore its own workforce.

“In the comptroller’s press release, it stated, ‘the food safety division’s staff of 82 inspectors is as much as 37 percent below the level recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.’

“What the Department of Agriculture and Markets suffers from is clearly a lack of staff. One of our members who inspects and oversees dairy producers covers all of Saratoga, Washington and Rensselaer counties, and that includes establishments, commercial labs and warehouses that are larger than five acres. Her workload has increased 30-to-35 percent since 2001, and the number of dairy product specialists in New York has dropped from 49 to 34 during the last decade.

“Auditors found most consumer complaints are investigated in a timely manner and ‘the state’s food sampling program is a nationally recognized leader in the world.’ This is testimony that our PEF members remain professional, dedicated and invested in their jobs and communities. The answer is clear. They don’t need to be time-managed. The department needs to hire more staff. It’s ridiculous to even think that jurisdiction over approximately 31,000 establishments can be completed by just 82 inspectors.

“The governor announced yesterday the state is now the third-largest producer of milk, and the number one producer of cream cheese and cottage cheese in the country. He said “milk production is fueling thousands of jobs.” Yet, the state department that oversees all this wonderful growth is running almost on empty.”