Federal Government Shutdown Slows FDA Inspections

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he is working to reinstate inspections on facilities that are considered at a higher risk due to the handling of sensitive items such as seafood, vegetables, and soft cheese, or that have a history of problems.

The furloughing of hundreds of Food and Drug Administration inspectors during the partial shutdown of the federal government has reduced inspections of the U.S. food supply, according to a report by The Washington Post.

In an interview with the Post, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that the agency has suspended all routine inspections of domestic food-processing facilities. Gottlieb said he is working to reinstate inspections on facilities that are considered at a higher risk due to the handling of sensitive items such as seafood, vegetables, and soft cheese, or that have a history of problems. "We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown," Gottlieb said.

The FDA, which oversees 80 percent of the nation's food supply, usually conducts about 160 routine food inspections per week, according to Gottlieb. About a third involve high-risk processing facilities. Inspectors look for issues like unsanitary conditions, insect infestations, and salmonella and E. coli contamination.

He said legal guidance from the shutdown in 2013 said the FDA could not conduct regular food inspections during a shutdown. However, after canceling more than 50 high-risk inspections, Gottlieb said he has sought the authority to call back about 150 inspectors to work on high-risk facilities.

About 60 percent of FDA activities are funded by user fees, which means that the agency can continue many operations for the time being. About 40 percent of the agency's work, including most of its activities related to food, are paid for via appropriations, which have not been approved by Congress.  

As the shutdown goes on, the FDA continues to inspect foreign manufacturers, imports and domestic products involved in outbreaks or recalls, and places that inspectors believe may have a problem.

Inspections of meat, poultry, and egg products are handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and those inspections have continued, according to a shutdown plan forwarded to the Post by a USDA representative.

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