Wednesday, January 16, 2019

FDA bringing back furloughed workers without pay to resume some inspections for high-risk foods

The Food and Drug Administration has ordered about 150 unpaid workers to resume inspections of high-risk foods such as infant formula, cheese, and some fresh produce. Most food has gone without inspection since the partial federal government shutdown began Dec. 22, Maggie Fox reports for NBC News.

The agency employs about 5,000 inspectors who make about 160 inspections per month. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency will resume inspections by early next week of some medical products whose inspections were halted by the shutdown. Some inspections are paid for through industry user fees, and those were never halted, Fox reports.

U.S. lettuce growers are desperate to have FDA inspectors back on the job, since American-grown romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli bacteria caused three separate foodborne-illness outbreaks in 2018. The biggest one, in March, sickened 2010 people and led to five deaths, Joel Achenbach reports for The Washington Post.

"During the shutdown, the FDA isn’t allowed to participate in conference calls or webinars with state officials, industry leaders and research scientists, said Jennifer McEntire, vice president for food safety at United Fresh Produce Association. She said the lack of FDA help has had a 'ripple effect' as outside experts are forced to try to do their work without FDA data," Achenbach reports.

The FDA told the Post that the resumed high-risk inspections could include leafy greens, Achenbach reports, but the agency has provided few details about what it's doing during the shutdown.

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