The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will resume food safety inspections for higher-risk foods such as cheese and seafood after briefly stopping routine inspections because of the government shutdown. While approximately 150 workers who have been furloughed during the shutdown will be returning to the food sector, inspections of low-risk foods will remain suspended.
In a series of Tweets, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that the agency is “taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we’re doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities.” Gottlieb also highlighted the difficulty in getting the food safety inspections to resume again during the government shutdown. “This was a major functional accomplishment amidst one of the biggest operational challenges in FDA’s modern history and it was fully enabled by the leadership of FDA’s field force and the colleagues who serve the country on the front lines of that mission.”
The agency typically conducts about 160 routine food inspections a week, with about 31 percent of those being facilities considered to be high risk. Unpaid staff has been conducting some of the high-priority inspections during the shutdown, such as those which deal with foodborne disease outbreaks and product recalls. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has continued food inspections on meat and poultry items using unpaid inspectors, as those services are considered essential.
Gottlieb noted that roughly a third of all inspections the FDA conducts are routine surveillance inspections of food facilities that are deemed to be high-risk. Some of the risk factors that are taken into consideration are the type of food, the manufacturing process, as well as the compliance history of individual facilities. Although many FDA activities are funded through industry fees, inspections of food-producing facilities are funded by taxpayers and were negatively impacted by the shutdown.