Most FDA food inspections not happening under government shutdow - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Most FDA food inspections not happening under government shutdown

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WASHINGTON (WSB) -- 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 our ABC affliate in Atlanta, WSB, 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.

WSB 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 WSB.

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."

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 explained that despite the strain an uncertainty regarding their pay, he feels his colleagues are special, showing dedication to a shared mission.

Gottlieb also tweeted that the FDA is working to continue with the inspections unlike the agency did during the government shutdown in 2013.

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.

WSB contributed to this report.

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