Gov't Shutdown Affects Food Safety Inspections

14 January, 2019, 20:13 | Author: Regina Silva
  • U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eats an ear of corn at the Brabant Farms in Verona

"We're taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we're doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities".

Not only are government employees with mortgages and bills not being paid under the ongoing almost three-week-long government shutdown, but now there is a potential public health threat: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has drastically cut back on routine inspections of high-risk foods at manufacturing and processing plants across the country, leaving seafood, fruits, vegetables, and many other foods at high risk of contamination unchecked by federal officials.

During normal conditions, the FDA inspects roughly 160 U.S. food production facilities each week.

The almost 3-week-old shutdown has idled about 800,000 workers at roughly a quarter of US government agencies and left some of the FDA's inspectors working without pay.

Dr. Gottlieb said he was still trying to figure out how that could be achieved. He said he hoped to bring back about 150 inspectors who had been furloughed during the shutdown, perhaps as early as next week.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced January 9 in a series of tweets that the agency was doing what it could to continue inspections, but that it was rapidly running out of funds. There are two food categories for the FDA: high-risk, such as seafood and soft cheeses; and low-risk, such as cereals.

Anton says a year ago, they conducted more than 900 inspections at more than 400 establishments.

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Food-safety advocates have long argued that they should be inspected more frequently as a routine practice, but FDA has a limited number of inspectors. Even for high-risk facilities, the FDA is required only to inspect them once every three years.

Barbara Kowalcyk, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University, takes a more cautious view.

But only "a few dozen" inspections haven't happened so far this week, Gottlieb said, which is hardly a crisis.

Routine food safety inspections for food facilities not deemed high-risk, such as bakeries, will continue to be suspended during the lapse in funding. Sampling of some foods such as frozen berries for contamination has also continued, Gottlieb said.

"[USDA] inspectors are still at work, checking meat, poultry & processed eggs".

"We assess risk based on an overall, cross-cutting risk profile".

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