Even in the middle of all the very recent food product recalls, the United States Food and Drug Administration has been forced to stop all routine food safety inspections because of the extended federal government shutdown. This includes all proprietary inspections of fruits, vegetables, seafood, shell eggs, soft cheeses, and other foods that are considered at high risk for contamination, according to FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
Normally, FDA inspectors would conduct approximately 160 domestic manufacturing and food processing plant inspections every single week. And, normally, roughly one-third of these inspections are considered to be high-risk and related to food-borne illnesses. Food-borne illness sends about 128,000 Americans to the hospital, annually, often resulting in about 3,000 deaths per year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fortunately, for American consumers, domestic meat and poultry are still being inspected by the US Department of Agriculture, but these agencies are working without any pay. Alas, the FDA oversees 80 percent of the food supply in the United States as well as a majority of imports from overseas.
To reassure the public, Dr. Gottlieb has taken to Twitter with some steps he wants to implement in order to restore food safety surveillance inspection and attempt to cover more of those high-risk sites even as the shutdown continued. He goes on to say that he hopes to bring back approximately 150 furloughed inspectors during the extended shutdown, with hopes to start doing so as early as the beginning of next week.
Gottlieb also adds that the FDA had stopped or delayed on a small portion of the country’s 8,400 routine inspections conducted by the agency every year.
It should be noted that the Food Safety Modernization Act requires the FDA to inspect all high-risk food facilities on regular schedule of three years. Still, food-safety advocates continue to argue that these facilities should receive more frequent inspection and this practice should be more routine. Unfortunately, the FDA has quite a limited number of inspectors. To put this into perspective, FDA data from 2016 says there are approximately 88,000 registered food facilities within the United States and about nearly 25 percent of these are considered high-risk.