Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the public has a right to the records of many federal agencies, with few exceptions. Some of those records are fairly easy to access, such as FDA Warning Letters, for which the agency provides a searchable website. Other records are less accessible, requiring the submission of an FOIA request. Such was the case with food facility FDA inspection reports … until the 2021 publication of the FDA Data Dashboard. To increase public data access even further, in January 2022, FDA added 10 years of Reportable Food Registry (RFR) data to the interactive dashboard.
With the intent to “increase transparency and accountability by displaying and allowing the analysis of public FDA data through easy to use, visually accessible, customizable, and understandable graphics,” FDA has essentially opened the doors of food facilities to the public. No longer are non-compliances kept behind closed doors until or unless a warning letter is issued, or someone has some specific knowledge provoking an FOIA request. Now anyone, at any time, can open the dashboard and scroll through the lists of tables of Inspection Details and – even more specifically – Inspections Citations Details – including company name, inspection date(s), and both short and long descriptions of all citations. And all data is sortable, filterable, and downloadable.
In addition to the Inspections dashboard, the site includes separate dashboards for
- Compliance Actions: Warning letters, injunctions and seizures by fiscal year, product type, etc.
- Recalls: Recalls by fiscal year, classification, product type, status, etc.
- Imports Summary: Imports summary data by fiscal year, import lines, product categories, countries, etc.
- Import Refusals: Import refusals by fiscal year, product categories, country, divisions, etc.
- Imports Entry: Imports entry data by fiscal year, country of origin, port of entry district, etc.
For the bigger picture, the dashboards include general industry graphs showing trends by recent years, then provide more specific lists with business names. While the bigger picture information provides an excellent source for industry trends, it is the individual tracking and public reporting of which food businesses need to be most cognizant – both the positive and negative aspects.
On the positive side, you can better protect your business through the ability to track issues with suppliers that previously may have been less visible – until a warning letter or import alert was issued. You also can see if there are pending issues in a particular industry segment earlier than in the past, enabling awareness of potential ingredient risks.
On the potentially negative side, any non-compliances found during an inspection of one of your facilities is now more easily accessible by the public, and more particularly, by the media. Whether it be a sanitation or pest issue; lack of a food safety plan or FSVP; or an import refusal, the data dashboard opens your doors and puts it out into the public domain – making food safety practices and regulatory compliance all the more critical not only for consumer protection but for that of your brand.
One of the best ways to guard against such issues is a thorough assessment of your facility, procedures, and documentation. Conducting mock inspections can also be very useful, as well as training focused on areas of need. While your internal, ongoing focus on all areas of food safety is essential (and, in many cases required by regulation), having an external assessment can provide a new set of eyes to identify areas that may be otherwise overlooked.
Don’t let “open doors” impact the perception of your brand. TAG food safety experts can help.