Thursday, 24 January, 2019

Government shutdown curtails FDA food inspections

The FDA may be slowing down on food inspections due to the government shutdown The FDA may be slowing down on food inspections due to the government shutdown
Jean Garcia | 14 January, 2019, 20:15

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.

It's unlikely, however, that a large number of inspections for high-risk foods have been missed or delayed since the shutdown began shortly before the holidays. USDA put out a press release at the end of 2018 regarding activities that would be affected by the shutdown, but the department has not updated it since that time. She worries about the effects of a longer-term absence of routine FDA inspection. It has purview over 80 percent of the country's food supply, along with most foreign imports.

The Department of Agriculture has said its inspections of meat, poultry and processed eggs will continue, and that 89 percent of its food safety employees are still working.

Further, as Gottlieb revealed on Twitter, the agency was "standing up high-risk inspections".

And as the shutdown continues she thinks employees may be tempted to leave.

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Of course, any reduction in food inspections is less than ideal.

There are some other institutions like the Institute of Health and the Disease prevention and control centers which have got enough funding from previous year from the congress. Inspectors can help mitigate the risk by checking facilities for things like E. coli and salmonella contaminations, bug or rodent infestations and improper food handling.

The FDA conducts about 8,400 domestic inspections a year, or an average of 160 a week, Gottlieb said. But even so-called "low risk" foods can be the source of illnesses. "But, we've had outbreaks from foods that are not high risk-from flour, from packaged foods". But that doesn't mean your food and drink aren't safe.

"We met with Bismarck Burleigh Public Health and those folks there talked with them about what our kitchen was going to look like so they were here a few times with that process", Todd said. "So I think that the fact that two-thirds of establishments are not going to be inspected is still a problem". But that could change should the shutdown continue to drag on.

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