"The voluntary quality control system widely used in the nation's $1 trillion domestic food industry is rife with conflicts of interest, inexperienced auditors and cursory inspections that produce inflated ratings, according to food retail executives and other industry experts.
Recent outbreaks of salmonella illness tied to contaminated eggs and peanuts have focused new attention on weaknesses in the decades-old system, which relies on private-sector auditors hired by foodmakers.
With food-borne illness and recalls rising, the use of private inspectors has grown rapidly in the past decade as companies try to protect themselves from lawsuits and tainted products that can damage their brand names. But experts agree that the inspections often do not translate into safer products for consumers.
"It's a business strategy, not a public-health strategy," said David Acheson, former assistant commissioner for food protection at the Food and Drug Administration under President George W. Bush. "