Shutdown Limits FDA Efforts to Protect Food Safety

“The longer this goes on, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong,” Hedberg says. “And without having that regulatory oversight, things could start to become problematic.”

Under federal law, the real frontlines of the U.S. food safety system lie with the food industry, where producers have FDA-approved management plans to keep tainted food out of stores and restaurants. The FDA’s job is to make sure those plans are followed and working, Hedberg says.

The shutdown may have cut into that capability, “But it’s the responsibility of the companies to make sure they don’t let their guard down just because there’s a perception that the federal watchdog isn’t there looking over them.”

Hedberg says the FDA handles about 80% of U.S. food safety issues, sharing duties with the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. FSIS inspects meat, poultry, and processed egg plants, and the USDA says those inspectors are still on the job during the shutdown.

So is the CDC, which investigates outbreaks of foodborne illness. And while FDA inspectors may have to skip some types of facilities during the shutdown, state and local health, agriculture and food-inspection services are still on the job.

“The longer that goes on and the more stress the working parts of the system have because they’re compensating for the lack of FDA inspectors and other things, the more likely it is that something could happen,” Hedberg says.

Gottlieb said because of the holidays, this week was the first when inspections would have been postponed. As a result, he said, the agency may skip “a few dozen” of the more than 8,000 inspections it conducts each year.

About a quarter of federal government agencies shut down Dec. 22 after Trump and Congress were unable to reach a deal on border security.

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