The partial government shutdown could make the nation’s food supply less safe.

“We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown,” Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the Washington Post. The agency inspects 80 percent of the food supply to ensure its safety to American consumers. But routine inspections of food plants have been suspended due to the partial government shutdown.

Gottlieb said he working on a plan to bring inspectors back to work so they can conduct inspections specifically at facilities that handle items at higher risk for contamination like seafood, soft cheese and vegetables, as well as plants that have a record of food safety violations. The agency inspects about 160 U.S. food processing plants each week. About a third are considered high-risk. During these inspections, regulators look for unsanitary conditions, insect infestations and contamination of salmonella and E. coli. But since the shutdown, these inspections have ceased.

“That puts our food supply at risk,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs with the nonprofit advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”

About 48 million people are infected each year from foodborne illnesses, 3,000 of whom die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last year alone, the FDA investigated 18 different outbreaks of illnesses linked to food, including at least 210 E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce and 135 salmonella infections caused by tainted boxes of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal.

The FDA is continuing its inspections of food products from foreign producers, as well as facilities involved in recalls or outbreaks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspections of meat, poultry and eggs have not stopped due to the shutdown.

Washington Post

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