Published: Mon, January 14, 2019
Money | By Ralph Mccoy

Routine Food Inspections Halted By US Government Shutdown

Routine Food Inspections Halted By US Government Shutdown

Although the partial government shutdown that began on December 22 has caused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to suspend routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and other foods, due to a lapse in federal funding, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb sought to reassure stakeholders and consumers that the agency was operating to the best of its abilities. The FDA said riskier foods account for about a third of the food covered by the agency's domestic inspections.

"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".

Domestic meat and poultry are still being inspected thanks to staff at the Agriculture Department, who are doing their jobs without pay.

Some food producers do their own safety inspections, and the FDA says it will announce recalls when notified.

Hernandez said it's "very important" that we have food inspectors because "they are the check and balance to unfettered manufacturing of ingredients and finished goods you eat every day". This is not welcome news for a nation just emerging from a severe romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak.

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Shutdown guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services, released late a year ago, directed that FDA would cease most of its routine food-safety inspections during a lapse in appropriations. The report noted that the agency inspected about 19 percent of all food facilities in 2015. "If we pull them in and tell them they have to work, they can't collect".

There were more than 88,000 registered food facilities in the United States in 2016, according to FDA data.

But only "a few dozen" inspections haven't happened so far this week, Gottlieb said, which is hardly a crisis. He also said, via Twitter, that the agency normally conducts about 160 a week, 31 percent of which would be labeled high-risk. The FDA said its investigation into that outbreak will also continue. She worries about the effects of a longer-term absence of routine FDA inspection. But even so-called "low risk" foods can be the source of illnesses.

Beyond the FDA, Sorscher says she's heard rumblings that USDA workers are becoming fed up with the shutdown and might start calling in sick. "But, we've had outbreaks from foods that are not high risk-from flour, from packaged foods. We tend not to appreciate them until we see the fallout of these kinds of things", said Roberts.

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