The Food and Drug Administration has suspended most of its US inspections now that the government shutdown has entered its third week.
Commissioner Scott Gottlieb assured alarmed consumers that the agency will continue to inspect foreign facilities and high risk ones in the US.
There are nearly 79,000 total food facilities registered with the FDA in the US and, according to today’s tweets from Commissioner Gottlieb, about one third of those are considered ‘high risk’.
So that means there are over 26,000 facilities that are still priorities for inspection.
The news of the FDA’s hamstrung inspections is raising concerns over the safety of US food during the shutdown – but even without furloughed staff, the normal rate of inspections (160 a week) covers just a fraction of the facilities it should cover a year.
Now, the FDA will inspect just 53 per week, according to Commissioner Gottlieb’s estimates.
The FDA said today that it will suspend most US food inspections amid the government shutdown but will continue to investigate ‘high risk’ facilities
It has now been 20 days since the US government shut down.
Just about any .gov email address auto-replies with an out of office message and national parks have become ghost towns.
But with each passing day, a new way that the federal government freeze disrupts the every day functions and even safety of Americans’ lives arises.
Among the many roles the agency plays, the FDA is responsible for ensuring that the food Americans eat is made in safe and sanitary ways.
It is unclear exactly how many food inspectors there are or how many are furloughed.
But in a tweet thread about the shutdown, Commissioner Gottlieb said that there are typically ‘about 160 domestic food inspections each week, and about 1/3 of those would be considered high risk.’
Interestingly, according to the FDA’s data on monthly completed food inspections, the agency had done 125 total food inspections between October 2017 and June 2018.
Daily Mail Online could not reach the FDA for clarification on this point, because the government is shutdown and most employees are not allowed to answer their emails.
However many there may be, this means that the FDA is keeping on enough inspectors to check suppliers of seafood, fruits and vegetables, certain canned foods, prepared meals, eggs, medical foods, many dairy products and infant formula.
To comply with a 2011 law, the FDA is required to inspect all of these high-risk facilities just once every five years.
Between October 2017 and June 2018, the FDA did a total of 424 overall inspections (yellow bars) – and just 125 food inspections (blue lines and dots). The most inspections it completed in a month was 30, in December 2017, according to its own website
So, scary though it may be that there might not be anyone around to make sure bacteria and contaminants aren’t getting into our food supply while the government is shut down, the reality is that there probably isn’t someone inspecting them very often any way.
However, the decision to continue to inspect high risk facilities is at least a step forward for the FDA.
During the 2013 government shutdown, these inspections were suspended too.
‘The new news was that we’re standing up high risk inspections. This is a departure from practices during past shutdowns, and part of our continuing effort at #FDA to focus our resources on areas of highest potential risk to consumers during the shutdown,’ the commissioner tweeted.
He also highlighted the fact that the outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce has officially ended, but the intrepid FDA investigators are still working to find it’s source, even amid the shutdown.
In addition, the agency has chosen to continue to do drug safety surveillance, but allow pre-market review work to lapse during the shutdown.
‘All of our work at the #FDA is critical, so nothing we stand down is unimportant. But the functions that can most directly impact consumer safety will continue, to the best of our abilities, subject to the legal and financial limitations of the current circumstances,’ Commissioner Gottlieb said in a Tuesday tweet.