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80 Percent Of Food Not Being Inspected During Government Shutdown

government shutdown food safety

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The government shutdown is far more than irritating political theater — it’s now posing a threat to the safety of America’s food.

Food inspectors and the scientists that track down infectious diseases are among the federal employees that are being furloughed.

“If there’s a food outbreak or recall or food emergency, it’s not being responded to,” John Guzewich of the FDA’s Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency response admitted.

Food inspectors at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been furloughed, and those officials oversee 80 percent of the food sold in the United States. Around 45 percent of the FDA’s staff – mostly all of them food inspectors – have been furloughed. In other words, nearly every FDA food inspector is not working.

“Ongoing investigations have stopped,” Guzewich told reporters. “That means that they’re not communicating with sister agencies and they’re not communicating with state departments.”

Salmonella Outbreak During Shutdown

Some food inspectors are still on the job. Meat inspectors that work for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Inspection Service (FSIS) are still working. That means the meat being shipped to American supermarkets is still being inspected but others foods are not.

But imported food is not being inspected.

Richard Raymond, the USDA’s former undersecretary for food safety, said when the shutdown started that he’d be “worried about what will happen if we have an outbreak.” That now has happened.

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The USDA issued a warning about a salmonella outbreak in Foster Farms chicken on the West Coast on Oct. 7, with a total of 278 people in 18 states having fallen ill. The outbreak is continuing, the USDA said.

During shutdowns, federal departments do not have enough personnel employed to investigate outbreaks, Food Safety News reported. Local and state officials presumably are doing much of the legwork.

Nation Unprepared for Epidemic

The Center for Disease Control’s PulseNet database normally has eight people tracking pathogen outbreaks. Five of them are now on furlough because of the shutdown, National Public Radio reported.

What’s truly frightening is that the CDC is currently tracking 30 clusters of foodborne illnesses in the United States. The man in charge of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, Chris Braden is worried that his staff cannot keep up with the outbreaks.

“We are focusing on those areas that we have identified at greatest risk, but it does concern me that we could miss something,” Braden said. Braden has the authority to bring people back to respond to an emergency, but a response would be delayed.

“If an outbreak does occur during this government shutdown, it’s likely it’s going to go on longer and affect more people,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The FDA’s John Guzewich said research projects examining the safety of food also could take a hit.

“I don’t know what they’re being told to do, but you might have a piece of research that you’ve been working on for years or months, and, if you don’t come in, you could blow away months and months of work,” Guzewich added. “Hypothetically, you could ruin a big research project.”

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  1. I think what is distressing here is FEAR. The USDA workers that inspect MEAT are independently paid by the producers and are therefor still working throughout this shutdown.

    I can’t vouch for the other “inspectors” but outside of fresh foods (Meat, eggs, poultry, …) there really isn’t much to inspect or worry about….there cooked or canned.

    So what we’re talking about here is a major bureaucracy with a bunch of paper pushers who are now home and getting paid for being there to boot.

    But as for our safety and food… worries. Those packaging processes were put in place for a reason and the companies producing them are still accountable.

  2. Did you know that only 2% of food IMPORTS are inspected at our ports? That’s before any government shutdown. Any tainted food that might be discovered (almost by accident) will be turned away. Turned away, but not confiscated and destroyed. This means that the importer only has to repackage the rejected food and try again, with a 98% chance of successfully penetrating the U.S. market.

    Who do you trust more, domestic food producers or foreign food producers? Frankly, we don’t trust Chinese food producers at all. My wife is Chinese, and yet she always checks for country of origin: anything labeled “Made in China” gets put back on the shelf. Why? Because Chinese food producers are notorious for adulterating food in an effort to increase the profit margin.

    Recall the melamine adulterated dairy products — mainly infant formula — that caused widespread malnutrition and even death among babies. They slipped melamine into pet foods as well, causing the deaths of pets all over the world. Melamine is rich in nitrogen, as is protein, so simple tests for protein content were fooled by the nitrogen found in melamine. Perhaps you remember from childhood the hard plastic plates your mom called Melamine. They’re still available, but they’re no longer the latest and greatest in dinnerware.

    The Chinese also found it cheaper to use industrial grade ethylene glycol (antifreeze) to replace the “food” grade propylene glycol used in a variety of consumer products. Both are sweet and both are toxic, but e. glycol will kill you and p. glycol will only cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage.

    Then there is the use of hydrophilic additives in seafood, which causes the flesh to absorb and hold water to increase the weight of a fillet. Have you ever noticed that frozen fish, when thawed and cooked, often sits in a pool of water and shrinks a great deal? That never happens when I cook freshly caught fish from Minnesota lakes. Obviously, selling water at the price of fish is a great way to increase the profit margin.

    Of course I mustn’t forget about the cooking oil recovered from restaurant slop barrels. Chinese food uses an extraordinary amount of cooking oil, and when food scraps are tossed into barrels (for collection by hog farmers), the oil comes to the top, where it is siphoned off for reprocessing. The advent of fast food restaurants was a boon to the oil recycling industry, which deodorizes, de-colors, and neutralizes flavors in used oil and sells it back to food producers. Yuck! McDonald’s Restaurants throughout Asia have had to ensure the destruction of their used frier oil to keep it from being recycled. Next time you buy “vegetable” oil, you might want to check that country of origin label.

    Given what we know about pink slime (related store available on OTG News) being marketed by our own food producers, what do you think the Chinese might do with those barrels of restaurant scraps? Truly, there is good reason to boycott all food stuffs produced in China. And, it is likely that other Asian and third-world countries use similar methods to produce food, so you really are taking a chance when you don’t “eat local.” Unfortunately, more and more of our food is being imported, which is odd in the case of countries that export food after first importing the ingredients from us. Especially concerning are food exports from countries that are net food importers that can barely feed their own people.

  3. Seriously? Do you really think our Government insures a healthy food supply? Never before in US history has there been the widespread problems with food that there is now.
    Why is it that most folks at OGN do not trust Big Bro, but when it comes to food safety, they think the Government is the source of safe food. Makes NO sense to me. Corporate farming is the problem with food born illness, the Gov. promotes Big Ag, Yes, is in fact CONTROLLED by it! Come on folks!

  4. So the inspectors get time off when its the paper pushers that should be getting pink slips.

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