FDA reduces inspections, putting food supply at risk, as shutdown continues
14 January, 2019, 20:16 | Author: Eric Barnett
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.
"We're taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we're doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities", FDA Commissioner Scott Gottliebsaid Wednesday in a thread on Twitter.
Those high-risk areas include plants that produce both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and seafood, Gottlieb said - about a third of the facilities that the FDA regularly inspects.
Domestic meat and poultry are still being inspected by staff at the Agriculture Department, but they are going without pay.
The FDA conducts about 8,400 domestic inspections a year, or an average of 160 a week, Gottlieb said. She says the FDA does a lot less than you think it does.
And he said that the business which is now going to be resumed isn't as usual because they are not going to work for the things as they used to do in normal situations and the thing most important is that they even aren't doing anything.
Hundreds of FDA inspectors have been furloughed due to the shutdown.
There were more than 88,000 registered food facilities in the United States in 2016, according to FDA data. About 31 percent of those would be considered high-risk, he said. But that could change should the shutdown continue to drag on. "There were two in a row with lettuce that had been major outbreak's", said Dr. Jill Roberts, and Assistant professor at USF College of Public Health. 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 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.
"If they stop showing up, we'd see some serious impact on the country's meat supply".
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