FDA halts food inspections during government shutdown

Mark J. Terrill  AP

The agency announced this week that romaine is safe to eat after concerns about E. Coli, though they are still investigating the cause of the outbreak.

The U.S. government isn't doing routine food inspections because of the partial federal shutdown, but checks of the riskiest foods are expected to resume next week. The agency said it will focus attention on high-risk food items like seafood, bakery and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, prepared salads, infant formula and medical foods, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

FDA investigations and recalls related to outbreaks continue under the shutdown because of the immediate health concerns.

The shutdown has stretched deep into its third week and is on track to become the longest since the 1970s if the government doesn't reopen by Saturday.

The agency is still conducting inspections of foreign food coming into the country but under its shutdown contingency plan regular inspections of domestic facilities are suspended, raising concerns that Americans could be at higher risk for outbreaks of foodborne pathogens. A meeting Wednesday between congressional leaders and President Donald Trump ended abruptly, with the president storming out when Democratic lawmakers refused to fund a wall at the U.S. -Mexico border.

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"A total waste of time", the president declared of the meeting afterward.

Gottlieb noted that of the 160 weekly domestic food inspections routinely conducted by the FDA, about one-third of those are considered high-risk facilities. "That puts our food supply at risk", Sorscher said. "There are important things we are not doing".

"For me to do that, it would require calling back about 10 percent of our inspection force [of roughly 5,000 inspectors]", Gottlieb said.

The Department of Agriculture said its inspections of meat, poultry, and eggs will also continue.

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