FDA halts food inspections during government shutdown

Andrew Cummings
January 12, 2019

The Food and Drug Administration has postponed routine domestic food safety inspections of many high-risk foods this week due to the ongoing partial government shutdown, the agency's commissioner said Wednesday. That led to far fewer federal inspections on domestic food.

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.

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"The shutdown hit day 19 [on 9 January], as White House negotiators and Democratic leaders continue to dig their heels in over President Trump's demand for more than $5 billion in border wall funding".

The FDA oversees about 80 percent of America's food supply and many overseas imports, and helps counter food-borne diseases that send about 128,000 people to the hospital each year, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a statement, the agency said it will continue operations as permitted by law.

Routine inspections of lower-risk facilities that work with products like baked goods will still be suspended, though that will not impact inspections that are for cause or as part of a larger outbreak investigation.

Additionally local grocery store representatives told KAKE News Anchor Greg Miller that food companies also perform their own inspections and tests or hire third-party companies to do so, in order to maintain quality standards. Almost 7,000 of the agency's 17,000 employees are furloughed.

"We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown", says Gottlieb. Some FDA departments remain operational because they're funded by user fees. "There are important things we are not doing".

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.

Furloughed workers can start applying for unemployment benefits, or search for another job - things they cannot do if they're called back to work.

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