September 19, 2023

Understanding USDA Appeal Inspections for Produce Shippers

If you find yourself in a situation where you believe that a USDA inspection has inaccurately described the condition of your produce upon reaching its contractual destination, it’s important to know that you have the right to request a USDA Appeal Inspection to reevaluate the quality and condition of your product. This process is designed to ensure fairness and accuracy in assessing your produce. Here’s what you need to know about USDA Appeal Inspections:

1. Requesting an Appeal Inspection:

  • To initiate an appeal inspection, you must act promptly. As a shipper, you should request it immediately upon becoming aware of the results of the initial inspection.
  • It’s crucial to inform your buyer not to move or sell any of the product you shipped until the appeal inspection is completed. Failure to do so may have financial implications.
  • If your buyer disregards your request and sells or moves the product, they could be held responsible for full payment, as they would have hindered your right to obtain an appeal inspection.

2.  Who Can Request an Appeal Inspection:

  • An appeal inspection can be requested by any financially interested party. This includes shippers, buyers, or any party with a stake in the produce.
  • The PACA Branch (Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Branch) may also request an appeal inspection if they have concerns about the original inspection’s results.

3. Appeal Inspection Process:

  • An appeal inspection must be carried out by either a USDA supervisor or two different inspectors. The goal is to provide a fresh perspective and ensure objectivity.
  • During the appeal inspection, the number of samples used is doubled compared to the first inspection. This increased sampling aims to provide a more accurate assessment of defects.
  • The results of the appeal inspection will either uphold or overturn the findings of the first inspection.
  • If the appeal inspection supports the initial inspection, the cost of the appeal falls on the applicant. However, if the appeal overturns the first inspection, there is no charge for the appeal.

4. Appeal Inspection Criteria:

  • A request for an appeal inspection is typically accepted under the following circumstances:
    • The lot can be positively identified as the same lot previously certified, using trailer license, car or van number, or approved Federal or Federal-State Positive Lot Identification.
    • The lot is misbranded and can be positively identified.
    • The complaint relates to a permanent factor (e.g., quality, grade, size, or weight) that would not have changed since the previous inspection.
    • The complaint concerns a condition factor that may change, but it is evident that the condition was present at the time of the previous inspection due to factors like time lapse, temperatures, perishability of the product, and the degree and type of deterioration.
    • In some instances where procedures weren’t followed, there were obvious sampling errors or a lapse in grader judgment is apparent, the Fresh Products Branch may request an appeal.

5. When an Appeal Inspection May Be Denied:

  • An appeal inspection request may be denied in situations where:
    • The complaint concerns a factor that may have changed since the original inspection.
    • The original inspection was based solely on “samples taken,” submitted samples, or another portion of the load that cannot be identified.
    • A significant number of containers from the original manifest are not accessible for sampling or have been disposed of.
    • The lot is not positively identified, and misbranding is not involved.
    • An appeal inspection has already been conducted for the same lot.

6. USDA Review:

  • It’s essential to note that appeal inspections are taken seriously by the USDA, and each appeal inspection is reviewed by the USDA/AMS Specialty Crop Inspection Division in Washington D.C.

In conclusion, understanding the process and criteria for USDA Appeal Inspections is crucial for shippers and other parties involved in the produce industry. Timeliness, accurate documentation, and cooperation with the inspection process are key to ensuring fair assessments and protecting your interests in the event of a dispute.

Shippers who are members of Western Growers can avail themselves of assistance to review and navigate USDA inspections. Please contact me at [email protected] or (949) 885-4808 and provide a copy of the USDA inspection certificate for support.