Audit finds 1,000+ issues with NC’s enforcement of Grade ‘A’ milk safety rules

Cartons of Grade "A" milk (Public domain photo)


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “is not effectively enforcing the rules governing Grade ‘A’ milk,” according to an audit by the Office of the State Auditor.

State Auditor Beth Wood’s office said that inspections of Grade “A” milk facilities are too lenient in North Carolina, and an audit found more than 1,000 issues with the Department’s enforcement of safety rules.

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The report released Wednesday says that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for enforcing sanitation requirements that are designed to keep the supply of Grade “A” milk safe for consumers in North Carolina.

The Department “is responsible for enforcing the rules governing Grade ‘A’ milk” by inspecting that the milk is sanitary, determining that it meets quality standards, and also evaluating the methods in which the milk is handled. The Department is also tasked with issuing permits for running Grade “A” milk operations and also suspending or revoking permits for violations of the rules.

The audit found that the Department of Agriculture “is not effectively enforcing the rules governing Grade ‘A’ milk” and “inspections of Grade ‘A’ milk entities are too lenient.”

The audit shows that the Department of Agriculture did not enforce the rules and failed to prevent continued noncompliance of safety standards set for the milk. Because of that they “extended the period that the public was exposed to potential health risks.”

Inspectors documented violations of the rules in the “remarks” section instead of marking them as actual violations of safety standards. The audit also shows that inspectors failed to suspend milk permits when violations went uncorrected between inspections.

According to the audit, for a three-year period running from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015, auditors looked over inspection data and forms from just under 300 “Grade ‘A’ milk entities” in the Department of Agriculture’s milk inspection database. Auditors discovered hundreds of issues with the inspections performed.

The audit contained a list of some, but not all, of the issues found with the inspections:

  • 50 instances where inspectors marked the same deficiency as a violation in two or more successive inspections without suspending the permit. In one case, the inspector marked violations of the same two requirements for six successive inspections without suspending the permit.
  • 474 instances where the inspector marked a deficiency as a violation and included comments describing the violation. Then, the inspector wrote the same comments during the next inspection but did not mark the deficiency as a violation. In 66 instances, inspectors alternated between commenting on a deficiency and marking the deficiency as a violation over the span of three or more inspections.
  • 457 instances where the inspector wrote comments about the same deficiency during two or more successive inspections but did not mark the deficiency as a violation.
  • 155 instances related to milking barn, stable or parlor cleanliness
  • 114 instances related to insect and rodent control
  • 98 instances related to milkhouse cleanliness

The report showed that the Department of Agriculture stated that they believed their inspections were performed in accordance with the standards set and that with only a few exceptions, they did not avoid any enforcement actions that were warranted.

During the course of 5,040 inspections of Grade “A” milk facilities over the three-year period, only “one inspection-related enforcement action” was taken — a suspension of the facility’s permit due to “seven inspection requirements” that were violated, the audit showed.

The audit recommended that the Department of Agriculture “review the number and types of violations and comments noted by its Grade ‘A’ milk inspectors.” They report also recommended that the Department of Agriculture “should require its inspectors to document their judgment for not imposing penalties for repeated violations at Grade ‘A’ milk entities.”

The Department of Agriculture did not agree with the audit or the recommendations, according to a letter from North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler.

“I have reviewed the audit report issued by the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor and respectfully disagree with both the findings and recommendations contained therein,” he wrote.

“I take my responsibilities seriously to ensure the safety of food products manufactured, distributed and sold in North Carolina,” Troxler added. “I strongly believe…NCDA&CS has met those responsibilities for our Grade “A” Milk Program.”

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