FDA: Shutdown Means We're Not Doing 'Important Things' Like Inspections

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Late a year ago, an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickened more than 60 people.

The U.S. food supply might be at risk because of the partial government shutdown. The agency said it will focus attention on high-risk food items like seafood, bakery and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, prepared salads, infant formula and medical foods, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. The outbreak appears to be over, and the FDA's investigation into it is ongoing.

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About a third of those 160 weekly inspections involve facilities that the agency considers "high risk", Gottlieb added. Many USDA offices are closed during the shutdown but those inspections continue as usual, according to the agency's shutdown contingency plan.

Gottlieb said that the agency, which oversees about 80 percent of the food supply, is continuing to surveil foreign manufacturers and imported food, as well as any domestic producers involved in a current recall or outbreak.

Its inspectors are among more than 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown - the result of an impasse between President Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for the US-Mexico border wall. Under normal circumstances, the FDA inspects around 160 U.S. food production facilities a week, many of them deemed high-risk. "I said bye-bye, nothing else works!"

From lettuce, to cereal and even ice cream - the FDA commissioner sent some stern tweets about potential candidates in food. FDA actually changed its travel policies last week so inspectors can charge travel expenses to a government account instead of personal credit cards.

The Department of Agriculture said its inspections of meat, poultry, and eggs will also continue.

"We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown", Gottlieb said.

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