Government shutdown: FDA does less for food safety than you probably think

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eats an ear of corn at the Brabant Farms in Verona

Most recently, in a Twitter thread, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted that the agency stopped a limited number of domestic food inspections because of the shutdown, but the agency is, "taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we're doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities".

Among the many federal agencies affected by the current government shutdown is the Food and Drug Administration, which, it was revealed this week, has postponed some of its routine inspections and halted others.

Deputy Director of Short-Term Affairs, Sarah Sorscher says, while the interruption in routine food inspections is not yet a major issue, concerns over health standards will grow if the shutdown continues. It does not oversee raw meat, poultry, or any products with eggs, which are the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture; the government shutdown is now not affecting those slaughterhouse inspections.

The FDA has oversight of around 80 percent of the USA food supply, in addition to most overseas imports. No scheduled inspections were cancelled, he said, but it is true that the FDA did not schedule any new inspections for this past week.

"Want to calm some fears because of somewhat sensational reporting on the shutdown", Perdue said in a tweet Friday in response to alarming headlines, including those from The New York Times and NBC News, over food inspections halting during the government shutdown.

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FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced January 9 in a series of tweets that the agency was doing what it could to continue inspections, but that it was rapidly running out of funds. It has purview over 80 percent of the country's food supply, along with most foreign imports. Even for high-risk facilities, the FDA is required only to inspect them once every three years. Months before the most recent scare, E. coli found in romaine lettuce killed five people and hospitalized hundreds.

Dr. Gottlieb said he was still trying to figure out how that could be achieved. "But, we've had outbreaks from foods that are not high risk-from flour, from packaged foods".

Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, tells Live Science's Rettner that the food Americans are eating is likely as safe as it was before the shutdown.

"We met with Bismarck Burleigh Public Health and those folks there talked with them about what our kitchen was going to look like so they were here a few times with that process", Todd said. But that could change should the shutdown continue to drag on.

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