In an interview with The Washington Post, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that food inspections have been "sharply reduced" due to the partial government shutdown ordered by President Donald Trump.
The FDA said it is working to bring back about 150 employees to restart inspections of high-risk facilities as early as next week, but inspections of routine facilities are at a standstill. The agency has had to suspend routine testing of most domestic food production facilities, though inspections of imports are continuing. Under normal circumstances, the FDA inspects around 160 United States food production facilities a week, many of them deemed high-risk.
"We're still doing ALL our regular foreign food inspections", Gottlieb said on Twitter.
Additionally local grocery store representatives told KAKE News Anchor Greg Miller that food companies also perform their own inspections and tests or hire third-party companies to do so, in order to maintain quality standards. Sampling of some foods such as frozen berries for contamination has also continued, Gottlieb said.
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"We are still performing those inspections and do routine sampling in both processors and retail establishments", said Heather Lansdowne with the Kansas State Department of Agriculture.
FDA investigations and recalls related to outbreaks continue under the shutdown because of the immediate health concerns.
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.
In 2017, a government report noted the number of facilities the FDA inspects has declined, and that it did not always take effective action to ensure violations were corrected.
The agency pays for medical manufacturing and food safety inspections out of its own budget.