Thursday, 17 January, 2019

The Government Shutdown Is Affecting FDA Food Inspections-but Don't Panic

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eats an ear of corn at the Brabant Farms in Verona Shutdown Limits FDA Efforts to Protect Food Safety
Nellie Chapman | 14 January, 2019, 20:12

In a series of tweets, Dr. Gottlieb said he was taking steps to restore food safety surveillance inspections and to cover more of the high-risk sites as the shutdown continued.

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

The food you put on your dinner table right now may not be getting properly inspected thanks to the government shutdown. All foreign food inspections are continuing as usual, Gottlieb said.

"Want to calm some fears because of somewhat sensational reporting on the shutdown", Perdue said in a tweet Friday in response to alarming headlines, including those from The New York Times and NBC News, over food inspections halting during the government shutdown.

Around 150 employees have been furloughed because of the shutdown, and the FDA is looking into measures to bring these employees back as soon as next week in an effort to resume inspections. "In which case they're sick", she said.

Shutdown guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services, released late previous year, directed that FDA would cease most of its routine food-safety inspections during a lapse in appropriations.

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.

Also worth noting is that the FDA does not oversee all domestic food inspections. There are roughly 20,000 food facilities that are considered high-risk in the U.S.

Barbara Kowalcyk, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University, takes a more cautious view. He also said, via Twitter, that the agency normally conducts about 160 a week, 31 percent of which would be labeled high-risk.

Routine food safety inspections for food facilities not deemed high-risk, such as bakeries, will continue to be suspended during the lapse in funding.

In the event there is a food-borne illness outbreak, Gottlieb said "teams that engage in outbreak response are stood up and available".

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

Meat inspection, which is handled by the Agriculture Department, is not interrupted by the partial shutdown. It does not oversee raw meat, poultry, or any products with eggs, which are the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture; the government shutdown is now not affecting those slaughterhouse inspections.