The Government Shutdown May Affect Your Food Safety

January 9th, 2019

The past year or so has seen its fair share of food recalls.

In August and July of 2018, there were recalls on poultry as well as beef and pork. In March, there were recalls of beef for fears of salmonella poisoning—those scares happened again as recently as early December as well. While all of the examples cited were linked to meat products, waste byproducts from animal agriculture have been known to flow downstream and pollute produce as well. The governmental body in charge of keeping consumers notified about crises like these is the Food and Drug Administration, or the FDA.

As it turns out, the FDA is part of the purview affected by the still ongoing government shutdown.

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openphoto.net Source: openphoto.net

As a recent article in The Hill reported, the FDA has stopped most of its routine food inspections as part of the shutdown.

While the shutdown is in effect, many FDA employees have been furloughed. Needless to say, if the FDA is unable to do regular food inspections, the food supply chain in the United States could be at a higher risk of spreading food-borne illnesses to consumers. The FDA’s commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, released a statement that the agency was working on an emergency plan to avoid any increased risk to consumers:

“We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown.”

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pixnio.com Source: pixnio.com

All told, food-borne illnesses typically affect around 48 million people in the USA a year.

Of that number, the CDC estimates that those illnesses end up killing approximately 3,000 people. As part of their normal operations, the FDA typically conducts approximately 160 food inspections a week in the United States, a third of which are dedicated to facilities with high-risk processing. While it remains unclear what further action will be taken, Gottlieb has said that his goal is to bring back more inspectors to make sure that they can do routine inspections as necessary.

Still, there have been no conclusive or clear statements on how or if this will happen, or on what timeline.

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wikipedia.org Source: wikipedia.org

Although the FDA is currently operating at a limited capacity, they will still be announcing recalls as usual.

Still, those who are concerned about their food can take extra precautions to avoid contaminants in their own kitchens. Be sure to thoroughly wash all fresh veggies you buy from the store. For an additional level of safety, you can also cook more of your vegetables at high temperatures to kill off any additional pathogens that may be hiding on them. While raw meat products remain a food risk no matter what time of year you use them, you can still take precautions in the kitchen to make sure you don’t cross-contaminate by keeping them on separate cutting boards and cooking them all the way through.

So far, the government has been shut down for 19 days—and negotiations to open a quarter of the government have stalled for more than two weeks.

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wikipedia.org Source: wikipedia.org

Though we don’t tend to think so, food can also be political.

While the cause of the shutdown is a result of President Trump’s push for additional border security and a budget for a border wall, the effects of the shutdown spread much farther than that. The longest government shutdown in history began in December 1995 and lasted for 21 days. With the current shutdown already on day 19 with no signs of resolution, we may be on track to see the longest shutdown in US history.

For updates on what that might mean for the FDA, be sure to read the above cited news sources along with our page as well.

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Sources: The Hill, USDA, Washington Post, CNN