Part 1. Back to Basics: Inspections-US perspective

| DRC

In this three-part series, we will look at the importance of destination inspection services with guest interviews with Tom Oliveri, Director of Trade Practices & Commodity Services at Western Growers, Jim Gordon, Operations Manager at Ippolito Produce as well as Fred Webber, President and CEO of DRC.

Part one of the series focuses on a U.S. perspective with Tom Oliveri. In the interview, Mr. Oliveri touched on key points: the importance of getting a federal inspection when one is available; challenges of a private survey; and proper inspection criteria.

It is up to the buyer to prove a breach of contract with the shipper and the best way to do that is with an inspection. A non-biased, third-party federal inspection is the route Mr. Oliveri recommends, citing consistency in training of inspectors, rotation of inspection personnel, and credibility of evidence collected in recommending a federal inspection over a private survey.  An impartial and thorough inspection report is key to the resolution of disputes over produce quality between shippers and receivers. “Inspectors are the eyes for the shipper who may very well be some 3000 miles away,” stated Mr. Oliveri. “They are the eyes to tell us what the problem is, what the product looks like.”

“We prefer to see a non-biased, third-party federal inspection. With a federal inspection, you know that there is a consistency in training of the inspectors as well as accountability to meet standards of quality, for example how to take an accurate picture – proper angles and lighting,” continued Mr. Oliveri. “We know federal inspectors are properly trained to collect the best possible evidence and that they will provide a legitimate inspection.”

In the case of private surveys, inspectors are often in one location only, working for the receiver and dependent on the receiver for repeat business, opening the door to call into question the validity of the report as non-biased. “Private inspectors don’t necessarily rotate, in other words they may be in one location all the time, and they work for the receiver and depend on the receivers to hire them to do the inspection and for repeat business. We don’t feel they are as unbiased as a federal inspector would be,” stated Mr. Oliveri.

Shippers have a responsibility to send products in suitable shipping condition and in normal circumstances, for the product to arrive in good shape. Mr. Oliveri wants the inspector at arrival to take a look at the shipment, know what they are looking at and to be 100% accountable. In the case of a dispute, the validity of a private survey may be called into question: what was the sample size, what are the criteria for inspection, how experienced is the inspector, what is the inspector’s depth of knowledge and area of expertise? These are just some of the questions that may call into question a private survey.

“With private surveys, we don’t know if the inspectors are thoroughly trained nor do we know that they are unbiased because they are working solely for the wholesaler. If you truly believe there is a breach of contract, the shipper will be paying for the inspection, so why wouldn’t you get a federal inspection,” asked Mr. Oliveri.

If a shipper or a buyer questions the results of an inspection and they believe that the product is better or worse than the inspection reports, and that possibly the inspector may have made a mistake, they can request an appeal inspection on a federal inspection. During an appeal inspection, a secondary inspector, oftentimes a supervisor is brought in to conduct a follow-up inspection with additional samples being tested. Results may validate the original inspection or overrule the initial results but the second inspection results are considered the true results. “How do we ask for an appeal inspection on a private survey,” asked Mr. Oliveri.

Private surveys have a place in countries that don’t offer federal inspections but both Canada and the U.S. have federal inspection services. Mr. Oliveri cites concerns with private surveys including accountability, sample sizes, level and depth of expertise, and bias in the favor of the wholesaler. “Private survey companies may not have the depth of staff to have experience on all the differences between commodities or the sheer number of commodities we deal with” said Mr. Oliveri.

In conclusion, he stressed the importance in supporting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and how private inspections can take dollars away from the program. “They [CFIA] don’t have a big budget and are on a cost recovery model. We need a strong CFIA inspection program that we can depend on,” continued Mr. Oliveri. Inspections can be requested via an online from the CFIA website inspection.gc.ca.