U.S. FDA to resume some high-risk food inspections during federal shutdown

Last week, media outlets reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was halting most of the unannounced inspections of food production facilities as part of the ongoing partial shutdown of the country’s government. Particularly of concern was the stopping of high-risk food surveillance. Now, the FDA has announced that it will resume inspections of some high-risk facilities.

Starting Tuesday, furloughed food safety inspectors began working without pay to inspect high-risk food production and processing plants.

“We’re re-starting high-risk food inspections as early as tomorrow,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted on Monday. He described other increased actions planned for this week, included the sampling of high-risk imported produce that already began. “We’ll expand our footprint as the week progresses. Our teams are working.”

High-risk foods include items that are more susceptible to contaminations with foodborne pathogens, including food poisoning bacteria Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. These foods include soft cheeses, meat (although domestic meat is inspected by the Department of Agriculture, which has not stopped inspections), seafood and produce (including leafy greens like romaine that were associated with highly publicized E. coli outbreaks this year). About a third of FDA inspections are for high-risk foods.

“This work is being done by an inspectorate that’s largely going unpaid,” Gottlieb tweeted. “These men and women are the tip of the spear in our consumer protection mission. They’re the very front line. And they’re on the job. The entire nation owes them gratitude. I’m inspired by their dedication.”

Even without the usual unannounced FDA inspections, food companies are continuing their usual food safety practices and monitoring and voluntarily recalling product as needed in order to protect their consumers.

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