WASHINGTON - There's concern the partial federal government shutdown could be putting you at risk of getting sick from your food.
Each week, the Food and Drug Administration performs about 160 regular, random food safety inspections.
But as Channel 2 Washington bureau reporter Justin Gray found out, most of those inspections aren't happening during the shutdown.
From fruits and vegetables to milk and cheese to thousands of prepackaged foods, the government shutdown means hundreds of inspectors who keep the nation's food supply safe are furloughed.
Gray found out that most regular inspections are simply not happening.
“It creates an increased risk that there may be another outbreak,” said Sarah Sorscher, with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even with regular inspections foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million people each year -- killing 3,000.
“What they're not doing at the FDA is making sure they have staff out there doing those regular inspections to make sure they catch food safety issues before they become illness,” Sorscher told Gray.
In a series of tweets Wednesday, FDA Director Scott Gottleib agreed this is a serious gap, tweeting,
“We're taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we're doing during the shutdown.”
THREAD: Food Safety During Shutdown: We’re taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we’re doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities. 31% of our inventory of domestic inspections are considered high risk— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) January 9, 2019
But that increase will still only cover about one-third of the normal domestic food inspections.
Gottlieb said they are still doing all foreign inspections.
“The Agriculture Department handles all meat and chicken inspections and those operations are not effected by the shutdown. Their inspectors considered essential employees,” Gottlieb said.
Note: We’re still doing ALL of our regular foreign food inspections. But, on the domestic side, in rough numbers we’d typically do about 160 domestic food inspections each week, and about 1/3 of those would be considered high risk.— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) January 9, 2019
One sign of FDA enforcement are the warning letters sent if problems are found during inspections.
Normally the FDA sends dozens a month. So far this year, the FDA has issued no warning letters.
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