Report: Holes Remain In U.S. Safety Net As Food Imports Increase

FDA lacks the resources to inspect most imported food.

In April 2012, a team of inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated a seafood company in southern India that had been exporting tons of frozen yellow fin tuna to the U.S., according to, a news website on health, safety and corporate conduct. What they found was not appetizing: water tanks rife with microbiological contamination, rusty carving knives, peeling paint above the work area, unsanitary bathrooms and an ice machine covered with insects and “apparent bird feces,” according to the report.

The FDA issued an “import alert” that barred Moon Fishery India Pvt. Ltd. from shipping fish to the U.S. But the damage to public health had been done, according to the report. By the time FDA got around to inspecting the plant, a salmonella outbreak was erupting around the country. Ultimately, 425 people in 28 states and the District of Columbia were sickened, with victims ranging from babies to octogenarians, the report noted. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 55 people were hospitalized.

The fact that tons of bad fish had sailed into this country was not a surprise, the report noted. The FDA has been outgunned and overmatched for years as a rising tide of imported food has found a place at the U.S. dinner table. Because of budget constraints ordinarily only 1 percent to 2 percent of food imports are physically inspected by the agency at the border each year.