The US Food and Drug Administration continued some food safety inspections that was stopped since the government shutdown began on December 22. The inspection committee are back on the job without any pay.
When the question was raised exactly what food need to avoid during the shutdown process, food safety attorney Bill Marler said, “I would say anything you aren’t controlling yourself, so any fresh, uncooked products on the market place,”, the food which is not cooked such as salads, pre-packaged sandwiches can be eaten during the process.
“We are very concerned that the shutdown may lead to lapses in food safety, but we don’t know where or when these will happen,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.
His list: “Sprouts, leafy greens, ready to eat products like cheese, ice cream. I would be especially suspect if you’re a pregnant woman, children, people with a compromised immune system. I would stay away from it completely.”
Bill Marler handles a food safety attorney who responsibly represents people who became sick or families of people who witnessed death from a foodborne illness. Further, he represented clients whose cases led lawmakers to pass the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Moreover, he also stated that around 80% of the food that falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA is inspected.
He says even when there isn’t a government shutdown, the FDA doesn’t have enough inspectors, noting that 80% of the food that falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA is inspected.
“We’re already at a deficit … when you’re cutting back anything at FDA you’re cutting back on a lot,” he said.
“I worry about those foods that are going to institutions like hospitals, like nursing homes … I worry about our most vulnerable consumers,” said Catherine Donnelly, a professor at the University of Vermont and expert on the microbiological safety of food.
“The FDA made it really clear that the responsibility for food safety lies with the companies,” she said. “They just have responsibility for oversight and determining whether there are violations. To a large extent, the job of food safety is already being done very well I think by the food industry at large.
“Consumers should continue to have confidence in those brand names that they trust and the willingness of companies to do the right thing in providing them with safe food.”
Hilary Thesmar, chief food and product safety officer at the Food Marketing Institute, an advocacy organization for the food retail industry, said that supply chain control requirements from grocers help keep the food system safe.
Grocers “have a lot of customer specifications and customer requirements on products that they buy,” she said.
But other consumer groups share Marler’s concernabout the safety of the food supply during the shutdown, even with some furloughed inspectors going back to work.
The FDA stopped some routine food safety inspections at the start of the government shutdown three weeks ago.
The FDA says consumers should always follow safe food handling and preparation practices to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
“There is nothing individual consumers can do to protect themselves beyond pressing the president and Congress to get our food safety workers back on the job with the pay they deserve,” Sorscher said. “We acknowledge that as risks go, this isn’t that bad but as it drags on the worse the impact will be.
“I also don’t know how long they [food inspectors] go before they start protesting by not showing up to work.”