Published: Mon, January 14, 2019
Economy | By

Government Shutdown Preventing FDA From Conducting Routine Safety Inspections

Government Shutdown Preventing FDA From Conducting Routine Safety Inspections

FDA inspectors are responsible for 80 percent of the food supply, including seafood, canned goods, packaged good, fruits and vegetables. Until Congress passes the funding bills needed to reopen those agencies, the FDA will "focus our resources on areas of highest potential risk to consumers", Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said Thursday via Twitter.

Meanwhile, domestic meat and poultry are still being inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture staffers, although they're working without pay.

Deputy Director of Short-Term Affairs, Sarah Sorscher says, while the interruption in routine food inspections is not yet a major issue, concerns over health standards will grow if the shutdown continues.

"While the FDA claims that it will continue to conduct "for cause" inspections and pursue criminal and civil investigations related to 'imminent threats to human health or life, ' the agency has posted no new warning letters since the shutdown began more than two weeks ago", the organization said in a written statement this week.

The FDA made moves last week to ease the burden on inspectors working without pay by giving them access to the central expense account so they could travel without incurring large credit debt - because they don't know when the government will reimburse them, reports The New York Times. 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.

But only "a few dozen" inspections haven't happened so far this week, Gottlieb said, which is hardly a crisis. "If we pull them in and tell them they have to work, they can't collect". "And then before we opened they of course came in and did an inspection".

Perdue is referring to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversees about 20 percent of US food production. Because inspections typically don't take place during the holidays, this is the first week that the shutdown is directly impacting the FDA.

"During the lapse period, the agency will be continuing vital activities, to the extent permitted by the law, that are critical to ensuring public health and safety in the United States", Gottlieb noted on the FDA's website. But that could change should the shutdown continue to drag on. But even so-called "low risk" foods can be the source of illnesses.

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.

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