During the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service will continue to supply meat production facilities with full-time inspectors, but the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety inspection program will be halted.
The FDA ostensibly oversees the safety of most food industries in the U.S. According to a memo released by the Department of Health and Human Services, the lion’s share of FDA food inspectors have been deemed non-essential, so will inspect few if any food facilities until the federal government is no longer shutdown.
The FDA normally conducts roughly 20,000 food facility inspections each year for compliance with safety regulations, despite actually being required to check 35,000 facilities a year.
According to the Huffington Post, FDA officials normally inspect about 80 facilities per business day. “So, for every day the government doesn’t work, approximately 80 food facilities will go without federal inspections. If the shutdown lasts until Oct. 17, 960 facilities may go without U.S. inspections.”
The FDA recently sent 23 food safety warning letters to food facilities that failed inspections for various infractions such as cooking implements covered in mold, stored in brown, soiled water; high levels of illegal drug residues in veal; and flies at a tortilla factory.
Under normal circumstances these warning letters are sent to just a small fraction of all facilities that are inspected, but during a shutdown they won’t be sent at all.
Since the threat of random government inspections ensures food producers maintain safety standards, if they know the FDA is dead in the water, they may ignore food safety altogether.
Keep in mind that even when working at full capacity, the FDA is inept, underfunded, and in some cases corrupt.
In 2008, Nestle, Mead Johnson and Enfamil infant formula products were all contaminated with melamine. But instead of informing the public, the FDA held a conference call to alert the manufacturers of their findings, withholding the test results from the public.
The information was only released after the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request, revealing that the products from these manufactures were all contaminated with melamine.
In 2010, the FDA allowed a half-billion eggs contaminated with salmonella to be unleashed before being recalled.
In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned that the safety of the nation’s food supply is endangered by the FDA, and openly accused the agency of jeopardizing the health and safety of Americans.
In its report, HHS charged the FDA with not only failing to conduct comprehensive reviews of companies’ food recalls, but also of not supervising how companies disposed of their recalled products.
The report revealed how food companies responsible for recalls brazenly thumb their noses at the law and simply ignore making any effort to recall contaminated products.
The HHS report noted how one company didn’t initiate a recall of a Listeria-contaminated mussel meat until three months after the Food and Drug Administration learned about the the problem.