Government Shutdown Curtails F.D.A. Food Inspections

WASHINGTON — The Food in addition to Drug Administration has stopped routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables in addition to many some other foods at high risk of contamination because of the federal government’s shutdown, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the agency’s commissioner, said on Wednesday.

F.D.A. inspectors normally examine operations at about 0 domestic manufacturing in addition to food processing plants each week. Nearly one-third of them are considered to be at high risk of causing food-borne illnesses. Food-borne diseases from the United States send about 128,000 people to the hospital each year, in addition to kill 3,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control in addition to Prevention.

Domestic meat in addition to poultry are still being inspected by staff at the Agriculture Department, nevertheless they are going without pay. The F.D.A. oversees about 80 percent of the nation’s food supply, as well as most overseas imports.

In a series of tweets, Dr. Gottlieb said he was taking steps to restore food safety surveillance inspections in addition to to cover more of the high-risk sites as the shutdown continued. He said he hoped to bring back about 150 inspectors who had been furloughed during the shutdown, perhaps as early as next week.

Dr. Gottlieb said he was still trying to figure out how that will could be achieved. “These are people who are today furloughed in addition to can collect unemployment insurance or take a second job,” he said. “If we pull them in in addition to tell them they have to work, they can’t collect. I have to make sure I’m not imposing an undue hardship.”

Food safety advocates said they were worried that will outbreaks could not be prevented without inspections, or could not be caught at the earliest warning signs.

“These are inspections where they catch issues before people get sick,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science from the Public Interest, an advocacy group. “The announcement that will they are going to try to start up high-risk inspections will be a positive step. nevertheless, we’ve had outbreaks by foods that will are not high risk — by flour, by packaged foods. So I think that will the fact that will two-thirds of establishments are not going to be inspected will be still a problem.”

The F.D.A. inspects food companies for bugs, rodents, mishandled food, improper preparation in addition to some other hazards.

Dr. Gottlieb said that will inspections of overseas products have continued, despite the furloughs. He also said that will the agency has maintained surveillance of some domestic producers who have had a history of problems or pose risks for some other reasons.

Soon after the shutdown began, the F.D.A. gave inspectors access to a central expense account so they could continue traveling while avoiding large personal credit card bills without knowing when the government could reimburse them.

The agency, part of the Department of Health in addition to Human Services, will be not dependent on federal funding for all of its activities. This specific receives much of its support by user fees imposed on the pharmaceutical, medical device, generic drug in addition to some other industries This specific regulates.

Although about 41 percent of the staff will be today furloughed because the agency had not received its federal appropriations before the shutdown, those in jobs supported by user fees have remained at work. nevertheless even those departments have taken a hit, as the F.D.A. has had to shift priorities for some duties.

from the pharmaceutical section, for example, some officials who generally consider pending drug applications are today working on post-market surveillance, checking for adverse events, like unexpected side effects of drugs or some other problems.

“We have a deep concern about those employees who were furloughed, their inability to fulfill their public health functions, in addition to the tremendous personal impact that will This specific has on them,” said Ladd Wiley, executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger F.D.A., a nonprofit advocacy group. “We are also grateful to the roughly 10,000 employees who are retained in addition to working.”

nevertheless, Mr. Wiley added, his organization also was concerned about nonemergency functions that will the F.D.A. has had to put aside. Among the important work being delayed right today, he noted, are manufacturing inspections, technical assistance in addition to advice to the produce industry — especially guidance for preventing contamination — in addition to activity related to food additives.

“There will be a whole list of things that will are not getting done,” he said.

Some public health experts were worried about the impact of the shutdown on inspection of fish. Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science in addition to Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he was concerned about contaminated shellfish ending up on store shelves during the shutdown.

In particular, he said, consumers should watch out for clams, mussels, oysters in addition to some other bivalves that will may come by contaminated water. “This specific can be very nasty stuff,” said Dr. Rosenberg, a former official with the seafood inspection program run by the National Oceanic in addition to Atmospheric Administration. “This specific can be anything by E. coli to Vibrio. This specific will be important for people to look for an inspection certificate.”

He noted that will the NOAA website says the inspectors are working without pay; so are meat in addition to poultry inspectors, according to the Department of Agriculture. Michael Halpern, deputy director of the science in addition to democracy center, thinks that will’s a problem not just for the workers nevertheless for consumers if the furloughed inspectors turn to temporary jobs to support themselves, creating a shortage.

“We have food outbreaks even during normal times, in addition to if the agency will be stretched even thinner, This specific can’t cover much ground,” he said.

One of the most prominent food-borne illness outbreaks recently involved romaine lettuce. In an odd bit of timing, the C.D.C. issued a statement on Wednesday noting that will the latest spate of problems by contaminated romaine began in October, sickening 62 people in 16 states in addition to the District of Columbia.

The C.D.C. in addition to the F.D.A. traced some of the contamination back to Adam Brothers Farming in Santa Barbara County, Calif., citing E. coli traced to an agricultural reservoir there. The F.D.A. issued a separate statement saying that will This specific could continue to investigate the source, even though the C.D.C. has declared the outbreak to be over.