US Shutdown still ongoing

It is the longest shutdown in U.S. history and it hasn’t ended yet. For 34 days all non-essential government tasks have been stopped. More than 420,000 employees of the state are working without being paid, and another 380,000 employees have been sent home. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of the authorities that is forced to cease most of its work. While vital activities are still being carried out, many routine inspections cannot be performed. This raises the following question: How does the shutdown affect food safety?

Many times in history, the US government has been forced to cease its work. This so-called shutdown happens if the US Congress cannot agree on a budget bill by a certain date. As a result, all non-essential government services are stopped immediately as payments are suspended. Many offices, authorities, museums and national parks remain partially or completely closed. Essential services related to safety or health are usually continued. Therefore, the shutdown does not affect agencies such as the police, the FBI, emergency services, United Stated Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), air traffic control and the legal system. As the FDA plays an important role to ensure food safety, we have found answers for the frequently asked questions.

Is the FDA completely unable to act?

Not completely. During the shutdown, the authorities will continue to pursue their vital activities in order to guarantee that public health is not compromised. Activities that are performed include:

  • reacting to emergencies such as responding to outbreaks
  • supporting high-risk food and medical product recalls
  • screening food and medical products that are imported to the U.S.

During the shutdown the FDA stops routine inspections, research activities and applications for new drugs. Routine inspections include activities such as checking ice cream for listeria, salad leaves for E. coli or breakfast cereals for salmonella.

Is my food still safe?

Usually the FDA inspects about 160 food manufacturing facilities each week. Those regular inspections are important to prevent food-borne illnesses. While the FDA stops routine inspections during the shutdown, manufacturers and private inspection companies can continue their own checks. In cases where a recall is necessary, the FDA will announce it. When making inspections during a shutdown, the FDA concentrates on facilities where there have already been safety issues, and high-risk foods such as seafood, dairy products, fresh fruits or prepared salads in order to reduce food safety issues to a minimum.

How does the shutdown affects food manufacturers?

As the number of routine checks is drastically reduced during a shutdown, it is even more important for food manufacturers to inspect their own products themselves to make sure that no contaminated food finds its way to the consumer. The shutdown also affects registration offices. It is likely that during a shutdown beer labels and process permits will not be approved as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is out during the shutdown. Once the shutdown is over, it will take a while until everything gets back to normal. There will be a huge backlog that needs to be cleared.

References:
https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WorkingatFDA/ucm629100.htm
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennysplitter/2019/01/10/what-the-government-shutdown-means-for-food-safety/#11b3d345f6d3
https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/government-shutdown-stops-fda-food-safety-inspections-n956716
https://www.gmaonline.org/blog/how-the-government-shutdown-affects-the-cpg-industry/