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Go behind the scenes of food inspections

  • Data Source:Food and Drug Administration, Ministry of Health and Welfare
  • Created:2017-07-27
  • Last Updated:2017-07-27

When it comes to working in the government, what usually comes to people’s mind is a stable job with regular working hours. However, members of Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) have found the working schedule quite far from what everyone expects. Acting as the “food police” for the public, TFDA inspectors have to conduct food inspections upon receiving a report no matter what time it is. To strengthen food safety across the whole of the industry, TFDA designs a wide range of inspection programs covering food businesses and establishments of all sizes and nature, from large food manufacturers, school lunch providers, banquet restaurants to small street vendors. Naturally, many food operators see inspectors a thorn in their flesh. Lots of food manufacturers are “afraid” of seeing them. A good case in point is a routine check at a food manufacturer in Taichung a while ago. Upon seeing our inspectors, the manager started ranting and raving at them, then taking pictures of their staff ID. After explaining why they were there and what they planned to do, the inspectors succeeded in softening the manager’s attitude and was able to complete the mission.

As the effect of whistleblowing incentives and protection in Taiwan’s food safety regulations heightens, the number of report has seen a sharp increase. In addition, high profile food fraud cases have pushed up inspection demands. For instance, as the recent news of a food trader selling expired frozen meat using deceptive labeling made the national headline, TFDA raised the frequency of walk-in freezers inspection. This kind of inspection is different from general ones in that inspectors not only need to check each individual food item one by one but also need to conduct the whole process in the freezing -18 degrees Celcius freezer.  Some food operators would even say: "I will not turn off the fan in the cooler, let us see how long you can endure such low temperature.” Hence, inspectors not only have the freezing temperature to worry about. They also need to watch out for their own safety while making sure all the physical and photo evidence are secured. If they find any expired product and if the quantity is huge without complete traceability reports, they must review and verify all the data the operator keeps, such as import/export records, to clarify the facts, which is like looking for a needle in the haystack. For food products without labels, inspectors go through the company’s complete deck of import/export declarations or business warehousing records to determine the food expiration date.

In one of our recent cases, our inspectors worked with the Taichung District Prosecutors Office and searched a food operator’s establishment. Every inspector worked until the middle of the night, staying in the large walk-in freezers during most of the time wearing thick down jackets and gloves. Despite the harsh environment, they were meticulous and thorough, leaving no detail or problematic products behind. Many inspectors’ hands and noses were frozen to unconsciousness, and even suffered frost bites. Worst of all, at the end of the investigation, the staff of the company grumbled about how long the investigation took and how they were kept working and sleepless as a result. However, did anyone sympathize with these hard-working inspectors? All they want to do is to safeguard food safety for everyone, including the consumers and the food business operators.

Everyone in TFDA spares no effort in keeping close tabs on food safety. In spite of complex regulations, limited manpower, and high-risk working environment, all the inspectors are committed to deliver high-quality, rigorous and efficient inspection work. Every time a fraudulent food operator is caught and stopped, it gives all the inspectors the biggest reward and affirmation that their work is meaningful and important. Let’s stand with our inspectors and give them our steadfast support and applause!