FDA seems to restart security inspections for unsafe meals amid shutdown

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eats an ear of corn at the Brabant Farms in Verona

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eats an ear of corn at the Brabant Farms in Verona

If you think the government shutdown isn't impacting you, think again.

The FDA has suspended routine testing of most domestic food production facilities.

Should Americans worry about the food the FDA can't inspect during the shutdown?

FDA inspectors normally examine operations at about 160 domestic manufacturing and food processing plants each week. These facilities typically deal with baby formula, vegetables, fruit, soft cheeses and seafood, among others.

Gottlieb says he hopes to restore inspections by bringing back employees on furlough, but he acknowledges that could pose an "undue hardship" to those workers: "These are people who are now furloughed and can collect unemployment insurance or take a second job". However on a local level, public health inspectors are still carrying out their day to day business. No scheduled inspections were cancelled, he said, but it is true that the FDA did not schedule any new inspections for this past week. Even for high-risk facilities, the FDA is required only to inspect them once every three years. Without regular inspections, we are at a high risk of catching food-borne illnesses, which send about 128,000 people to the hospital each year, and kill 3,000, according to the NYT report, which adds, "The F.D.A. inspects food companies for bugs, rodents, mishandled food, improper preparation and other hazards". 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. These inspectors are also working without pay. This is not welcome news for a nation just emerging from a severe romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak. So, as Vox's Julia Belluz puts it, the number of interrupted inspections thus represent "less than half a percent of the total inspections happening annually".

"It can be very nasty stuff", Rosenberg explained, a former official with the seafood inspection program run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the FDA's short-term lapse in routine food inspections isn't a cause for worry, but will be if the shutdown continues.

"That raises concerns that enforcement activities may have effectively stopped", the center said.

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