Government Shutdown Halts Routine Food Safety Inspections

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner, announced on Wednesday, Jan. 10, that the F.D.A has stopped routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and many other foods at high risk of contamination because of the federal government’s shutdown.

F.D.A. inspectors normally examine operations at about 160 domestic manufacturing and food processing plants each week, but now, nearly one-third of them are considered to be at high risk of causing food-borne illnesses.

Staff at the Agriculture Department is still inspecting domestic meat and poultry, but they are doing so without pay.

In a series of tweets, Dr. Gottlieb said he was taking steps to restore food safety surveillance inspections.

“These are people who are now furloughed and can collect unemployment insurance or take a second job,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “If we pull them in and tell them they have to work, they can’t collect. I have to make sure I’m not imposing an undue hardship.”

Dr. Gottlieb hopes to bring back about 150 inspectors as early as next week and is working towards covering more of the high-risk sites.

Despite the F.D.A. working through the current situation, food safety advocates are still worried that outbreaks would not be prevented or would not be caught at the earliest warning signs.

“These are inspections where they catch issues before people get sick,” Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said. “The announcement that they are going to try to start up high-risk inspections is a positive step. But, we’ve had outbreaks from foods that are not high risk — from flour, from packaged foods. So I think that the fact that two-thirds of establishments are not going to be inspected is still a problem.”

By: Maytinee Kramer

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