FDA Food Inspections "Sharply Reduced" Amid Partial Government Shutdown

Kenny Grant
January 12, 2019

Routine food inspections aren't getting done because of the partial government shutdown, but checks of the riskiest foods are expected to resume next week, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

While the FDA's inspections are an important part of American food safety standards, there are tens of thousands of food facilities in the country, and it would be impossible for the agency to inspect all of them every year. That means the inspectors who work for the FDA have been furloughed, making it much harder for them to inspect the 80% of the nation's food supply that they oversee.

But that increase will still only cover about one-third of the normal domestic food inspections. FDA actually changed its travel policies last week so inspectors can charge travel expenses to a government account instead of personal credit cards. Factors that determine whether a food is more susceptible to contamination include the type of food, how it's made, and the facility's history of violations. The agency said all imported foods will continue to be inspected and that critical functions, such as monitoring for food poisoning outbreaks, remain up and running.

/ A man shops for vegetables beside Romaine lettuce stocked and for sale at a supermarket in Los Angeles, California, on May 2, 2018, where the first death from an E coli contaminated Romaine lettuce outbreak was reported.

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"While the FDA claims that it will continue to conduct "for cause" inspections and pursue criminal and civil investigations related to "imminent threats to human health or life", the agency has posted no new warning letters since the shutdown began more than two weeks ago".

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

"We are still performing those inspections and do routine sampling in both processors and retail establishments", said Heather Lansdowne with the Kansas State Department of Agriculture. The report noted that the agency inspected about 19 percent of all food facilities in 2015.

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