FDA halts food inspections during government shutdown

Food inspections

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The FDA conducts about 8,400 inspections a year, or an average of 160 a week.

In a move to minimize the impact of the shutdown, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted the agency is "taking steps" to expand domestic food safety inspections during the shutdown, especially for high-risk facilities that make up a third of regular inspections.

"FDA's professional staff remain fully dedicated to our mission", Gottlieb said in a tweet Wednesday.

After a year plagued by deadly E. coli outbreaks linked to widely distributed romaine lettuce, 2019 is off to an anxiety-inducing start.

A third of FDA's routine inspections are of high-risk facilities that work with products like fresh fruits and veggies, seafood, dairy products, prepared foods, infant formula, and medical foods.

Each year, an estimated 48 million people are sickened by foodborne illnesses in the USA, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Its inspectors are among more than 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown - the result of an impasse between President Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for the US-Mexico border wall.

Despite the shutdown, the FDA said it's still conducting foreign food inspections, inspections at ports, and is dealing with recalls and outbreaks.

"Our work protects the food that families feed their children and pets and ensures the effectiveness of the medicine they need, all of which contribute to improving the health and welfare of Americans", it said.

But the agency is skipping the 160-or-so routine food inspections it usually performs each week. FDA actually changed its travel policies last week so inspectors can charge travel expenses to a government account instead of personal credit cards.

The Agriculture Department is already inspecting meat and poultry without pay during the shutdown.

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