A Maryland agency responsible for protecting residents from food-related illnesses failed to perform the required inspections, sampling and equipment tests at multiple food and milk processing plants and distribution centers, according to a new audit. The state's Office of Legislative Audits found that the Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration, within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, could not confirm the reliability of testing at food stations serving thousands of Marylanders.

Of the 10 sites randomly sampled by auditors, two had not performed the mandatory safety testing. In one plant, test samples did not meet bacteriological regulations -- and the violation was not recorded nor was follow-up testing conducted for five months -- which led to an "increased risk of adulterated food not being detected."

"I wouldn't say that it changed my eating habits or anything," Legislative Auditor Bruce Myers said. "But they need to make sure the oversight is there and not just trust what their inspectors are saying to them."

Another plant had not received an annual inspection since 2005, the report said.

In response to the audit, outgoing Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers said the procedure for reviewing inspections is "undergoing revision." He added that meeting inspection standards would be an "ongoing challenge given the staff and budget reductions for these functions."

Auditors also took the department to task for failing to ensure there were prescriptions for AIDS medication given to low-income residents.

"As a result, a pharmacy could inappropriately bill IDEHA for unauthorized medications without detection," the report said.

Investigators said the state spent $29.1 million on the AIDS program in 2009.

The audit is just the most recent in a series of troubling reports involving the massive state health agency.

As The Washington Examiner reported last month, for the last seven years the department used inmates to process Social Security numbers and other personal information from low-income residents receiving medical benefits. Prisoners with a history of fraud or theft were not restricted from recording the sensitive data until July.

Health officials say they are re-evaluating the use of inmates. But they defended the practice, saying inmates would have to memorize the private information to commit a crime.