Posted: Jan 10, 2019
The partial shutdown has kept most FDA inspectors at home.
The ongoing partial government shutdown — which has seen the furloughing of “non-essential” government employees after Congress failed to come to agreement over funding — has apparently furloughed some folks most people would consider pretty essential: The Food and Drug Administration inspectors tasked with insuring the nation’s food is safe.
The Washington Post reports the FDA, which regulates all processed foods made and sold in America, has suspended all its routine inspections in domestic food-processing facilities. According to FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, that already represents the skipping over of more than 50 “high-risk” inspections, of the agency’s average of 160 routine inspections per week. In a Twitter thread, Gottlieb reports that 31 percent of the FDA’s inspections are considered “high risk,” and include facilities that produces foods like low-acid canned goods, soft cheeses, unpasteurized juices, prepared salads, and infant formula.
During the shutdown, the FDA is inspecting foreign imports and still addressing outbreaks and routine USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) inspections have continued: The USDA is responsible for meat, poultry, and egg inspections. But it’s the FDA that regulates 80 percent of the nation’s food supply, and Gottlieb tells NBC that he’s hoping to get some inspectors back to work by early next week in order to tackle high-risk inspections. Those workers would be returning without pay so long as the shutdown continues. “We want to protect the public and we will,” Gottlieb said. “But I am mindful of the impact that we have on the people of the agency.” (The base salary for an FDA inspector, per NBC, is between $30,000 and $37,000 per year.)
Given the slate of recent foodborne illness outbreaks, it would seem the FDA inspectors’ work is pretty essential, at least to those hoping to avoid salmonella or E. coli in their packaged salads. As of today, the shutdown has rolled into its 22nd day.
By Erin DeJesus
January 9, 2019
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