FDA seems to restart security inspections for unsafe meals amid shutdown

Significance of user fees to FDA

Three weeks into the federal government shut down, a new worry has emerged: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food-safety inspections.

Around 150 employees have been furloughed because of the shutdown, and the FDA is looking into measures to bring these employees back as soon as next week in an effort to resume inspections. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Laurie McGinley and Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post that the agency was forced to suspend routine inspections of domestic food-processing facilities, but he emphasized on Twitter that some inspections are continuing.

Hundreds of FDA inspectors have been furloughed due to the shutdown. Shortly afterward, he clarified, in a separate tweet, that high-risk food inspections would continue.

The FDA normally conducts around 160 facility inspections a week, and one-third of those facilities are considered to be a high risk for causing food-borne infections. Inspections of what the FDA classifies as low risk foods-things like packaged crackers and cookies-will be stopped, however. 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 F.D.A.is in charge of monitoring about 80 percent of all the food in the country.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which helps with tainted food outbreaks, is not affected by the partial shutdown and on Wednesday said the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce appears to be over. She doesn't think the short-term consequences will be a big problem, unless an outbreak requires investigation and the FDA needs to move quickly. He notes that meat and some poultry products are still being inspected by employees now going without pay but "there are important things we are not doing". However on a local level, public health inspectors are still carrying out their day to day business. That's raised alarms with watchdogs like the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which said this week the shutdown "puts our food supply at risk".

Hernandez said it's "very important" that we have food inspectors because "they are the check and balance to unfettered manufacturing of ingredients and finished goods you eat every day".

Beyond the FDA, Sorscher says she's heard rumblings that USDA workers are becoming fed up with the shutdown and might start calling in sick.

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