The partial government shutdown has disastrously affected not only the 800,000 workers who are about to miss their first paychecks, but everyone from people stuck in ever-growing TSA lines to tourists trying to visit national parks to mortgage applicants. And here’s just another way almost every America will feel its effects: Food And Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb announced this week that the FDA “has stopped routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and many other foods at high risk of contamination because of the federal government’s shutdown,” according to The New York Times.
This is terrible news, as according to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, food-borne diseases in the U.S. send about 128,000 people to the hospital each year, and kill 3,000, and that’s with inspections in place. The New York Times states that due to the shutdown, “Food safety advocates said they were worried that outbreaks would not be prevented without inspections, or would not be caught at the earliest warning signs.”
Gottlieb, though, in a series of tweets, stresses that he is doing the best he can with now-even-more-limited resources. He tweeted about “part of our continuing effort at
#FDA to focus our resources on areas of highest potential risk to consumers during the shutdown.” Many food inspectors in the meat and dairy industry are working without pay, according to the U.S. Department Of Agriculture. Gottlieb is hoping to bring back about 150 inspectors who had been furloughed during the shutdown, although he’s still figuring out the details, telling the Times: “These are people who are now furloughed and can collect unemployment insurance or take a second job… If we pull them in and tell them they have to work, they can’t collect. I have to make sure I’m not imposing an undue hardship.”
Certain foods may be riskier than others. Apparently, we can eat romaine lettuce again, but Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center For Science And Democracy at the Union Of Concerned Scientists, suggests avoiding shellfish for the duration of the shutdown. “He was concerned about contaminated shellfish ending up on store shelves during the shutdown… In particular, he said, consumers should watch out for clams, mussels, oysters and other bivalves that may come from contaminated water.” Even with new shutdown-related impacts like these piling up every day, the standoff shows no sign of abating.