Foodservice Equipment Reports

Shutdown Creating Risks To Food Safety

The government shutdown is endangering what America eats, according to food-safety experts. Offices are dark across the federal agencies charged with making sure that fruits, vegetables, dairy products and other domestically produced food are safe to consume. Inspectors, administrative staff, lab technicians, communications specialists and other support staff members have been sent home.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in 2011, was supposed to give the Food and Drug Administration greater enforcement powers. Those powers already had been delayed because of the sequestration’s across-the-board budget cuts. It now will be further delayed because of the shutdown, but there are more immediate impacts already.

Currently, about 45% of FDA staff is furloughed; the agency is not able to conduct inspections of plants and has reduced inspections of imported food. About 20% of the food Americans eat is imported, including 85% of seafood and a significant amount of produce. 

At the Agriculture Department, a meat and poultry hot line that consumers can call for information about food safety or to report problems is closed. Nearly 70% of the staff at the Centers for Disease Control was furloughed, including epidemiologists and dozens of other workers who oversee a database that tracks food-borne illness. The agency brought back about 30 furloughed workers to handle an 18-state salmonella outbreak, which has been linked to raw chicken, but the CDC remains short-handed.

The Agriculture Department, which traced the salmonella outbreak to a poultry producer in California, has been spared the brunt of the sequestration cuts and the government shutdown. For more than a century, federal law has required inspectors at meat and poultry processing plants.

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