Hundreds of Food and Drug Administration inspectors are furloughed which means food inspections have been greatly reduced. The FDA oversees 80% of the food supply but has suspended all routine inspections of domestic food processing facilities.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is working on a plan to bring inspectors back as early as next week to inspect high-risk facilities. These facilities handle sensitive items such as seafood, soft cheese, vegetables, or have a history of problems. “We’re doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown,” he said.
A non-profit advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the lack of inspections is unacceptable. “That puts our food supply at risk,” Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the group said. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”
Foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million people each year in the United States and kill 3,000, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The FDA typically conducts about 160 routine food inspections per week, with about 1/3 involving high-risk processing facilities, Gottlieb said.
The inspectors look or problems such as unsanitary conditions, insect infestations, and salmonella/E. Coli contamination.
The agency is continuing to inspect foreign manufacturers, imports and domestic producers involved in recalls or outbreaks, and places where inspectors suspect there may be a problem.
Close to 60% of the FDA’s activities are funded by user fees, which have allowed the agency to continue many operations for now. However, most of its food-related work is paid for by appropriations, which have not yet been approved by Congress.
The United States Department of Agriculture inspects meat, poultry, and eggs and those inspections have continued.