FDA Halts Routine Food Inspections Due to Government Shutdown

Ivan Schwartz
January 12, 2019

Late a year ago, an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickened more than 60 people.

After a year plagued by linked to widely distributed, 2019 is off to an anxiety-inducing start.

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that a government shutdown prevents it from doing some routine food safety inspections, and that the agency is weeks away from running out of funds it uses to review new drugs and medical products.

But that increase will still only cover about one-third of the normal domestic food inspections. That's according to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who revealed the news in an interview with the Washington Post published Wednesday.

Gottlieb is trying to bring back about 150 inspectors as soon as possible, hopefully next week, to inspect high-risk facilities, such as those that process soft cheese and seafood or make infant formula, or those that may have had issues with food safety in the past.

FDA inspectors look for problems in processing plants such as infestation by insects and rodents, issues with how food is handled by employees, and contamination through insanitary conditions.

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"We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown", Gottlieb said.

Despite the shutdown, the FDA said it's still conducting foreign food inspections, inspections at ports, and is dealing with recalls and outbreaks.

Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the FDA's short-term lapse in routine food inspections isn't a cause for worry, but will be if the shutdown continues.

"That puts our food supply at risk", she told the Post. "Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital".

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million people in the USA get sick each year from food-borne diseases and about 3,000 of those people die.

Many USDA offices are closed during the shutdown but those inspections continue as usual, according to the agency's shutdown contingency plan.

Other reports by GizPress

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