Government shutdown stops most FDA food safety inspections

The FDA may be slowing down on food inspections due to the government shutdown

The FDA is working to restore some food-safety inspections for products deemed high-risk, such as seafood and raw fruit, that have been suspended or delayed because of the government shutdown.

According to a report in The New York Times, FDA inspectors typically examine operations at about 160 domestic manufacturing and food-processing plants weekly, with nearly one-third of them believed to be at high risk of causing foodborne illnesses.

Gottlieb said FDA inspections would have ramped up this week for the first time since the holidays, so the lapse in inspections of high-risk foods will not be significant if they resume soon. 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.

He also explained that while the F.D.A. doesn't function like the the United States Department of Agriculture, where inspectors are on-site every day actually witnessing the manufacturing process, we still need our food manufacturing facilities to be regularly monitored. There are two food categories for the FDA: high-risk, such as seafood and soft cheeses; and low-risk, such as cereals.

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The FDA oversees about three-quarters of the food supply, including packaged foods and produce. Months before the most recent scare, E. coli found in romaine lettuce killed five people and hospitalized hundreds. She says the FDA does a lot less than you think it does.

The commissioner said in a series of tweets on Wednesday that the agency typically conducts about 160 routine facility inspections per week. The work they do is extremely important. 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". But even so-called "low risk" foods can be the source of illnesses.

But Craig Hedberg, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, says the shutdown "shouldn't pose an imminent food-safety threat" - as long as the impasse over President Donald Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a wall along the Mexican border gets resolved quickly.

"We assess risk based on an overall, cross-cutting risk profile. We tend not to appreciate them until we see the fallout of these kinds of things", said Roberts.

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