FDA suspends domestic food inspections during government shutdown

Irving Hamilton
January 12, 2019

The agency is still conducting inspections of foreign food coming into the country but under its shutdown contingency plan regular inspections of domestic facilities are suspended, raising concerns that Americans could be at higher risk for outbreaks of foodborne pathogens.

As you probably recall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is part of the USA federal government.

"FDA doesn't tend to do inspections of those unless there's been a problem", Sarah Taber, a food safety consultant, told Bloomberg.

But that increase will still only cover about one-third of the normal domestic food inspections.

The CDC says food-borne illness kills 3000 people in the US annually, and sickens a whopping 48 million people each year.

As a result of the shutdown, FDA is not conducting routine inspections of domestic food processing facilities.

"While food inspections of most of these facilities have halted due to the funding shortfall caused by the shutdown, Gottlieb says he is seeking to bring back enough workers to investigate high-risk facilities, which deal with sensitive foods such as seafood and cheese".

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From lettuce, to cereal and even ice cream - the FDA commissioner sent some stern tweets about potential candidates in food.

Gottlieb said the FDA's goal is to handle the most important inspections. Sampling of some foods such as frozen berries for contamination has also continued, Gottlieb said.

Just a year ago, the agency and the CDC helped pinpoint an outbreak of to romaine lettuce and track breakfast cereal that sickened some people with salmonella.

The Agriculture Department is already inspecting meat and poultry without pay during the shutdown.

In a possible sign of the slowed pace of inspections, the FDA hasn't posted any new warning letters since the beginning of the shutdown, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said in an email. Restaurants are overseen by local health agencies.

'That's more and more issues they're potentially not catching, ' she said.

The report noted that the agency inspected about 19 percent of all food facilities in 2015.

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