Most FDA food inspections halted amid shutdown — should we be worried?

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it is scaling back on inspections amid the government shutdown.

In a release, the government agency explained that it can’t carry on some of its mandate amid a lapse in funds as the shutdown carries on for a third week.

“All our work is important, but only some of our work is permitted to continue during a lapse in funding,” the release read.

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It explained that some food and drug inspections will be halted, but the agency will still respond to emergencies such as foodborne illness outbreaks, recalls, and investigating other imminent health risks.

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FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb explained on Twitter that the agency typically does about 160 food inspections per week, but only one-third of those are considered high risk.

Some high-risk products include certain types of canned food, seafood, custard-filled bakery products and dairy products. They also include unpasteurized juices, fruits and vegetables, prepared salads, infant formula and medical products.

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The FDA will also still be screening food and medical products that are imported from other countries.

How big of a concern is it?

Keith Warriner, a food sciences professor at the University of Guelph, explained that the limited FDA operation is not necessarily as concerning as it may seem.

He explained that the food industry has regulations and common practices that will remain in place.

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“The industry is really responsible for producing safe products,” he said. “[Having] an inspector there doesn’t mean the products are going to be safer.”
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While the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does work with its U.S. counterparts in some cases, Warriner noted that the FDA and U.S. Center for Disease Control will still work on imminent health risks and high-risk food products.

“If there is an outbreak, like the romaine lettuce one, I don’t think there will be any disruption,” Warriner said.

Global News reached out to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but had not heard back by Wednesday afternoon.

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Advocacy group Alliance for a Stronger FDA reported that 41 per cent of FDA employees are currently unable to work, cutting its workforce down by 7,053. Some furloughed employees, however, can be called in the event of a public health risk.

Other agencies under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — as well other other government operations — are affected by the shutdown.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has said the government shutdown will remain in effect until his demand for border wall funding is fulfilled.

— With files from Reuters

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