March 22, 2018

Food Safety Effects of the Government Shutdown

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has issued a statement about the continuing government shutdown and the possible effects on food safety. An outbreak could already be happening in this country, but it could continue without a response from the USDA, FDA, and CDC.

CongressCaroline Smith DeWall, CSPI Food Safety Director, said in a statement, “the task of tracking the food that is causing an outbreak takes a trained group of public health investigators, from epidemiologists at the CDC to experts in food production and traceability at USDA and FDA. Together these experts gather evidence from state investigations and victim interviews, and analyze the clues that lead to the identification of the contaminated food causing the outbreak. But right now, these agencies are operating with skeleton crews. This means some outbreaks will never be investigated and solved while others might be solved days or weeks later than they otherwise would. And each day of delay means that more consumers could be sickened from the undiscovered contaminated food.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has furloughed 8,743 employees. FDA is furloughing 14,779 employees, and the USDA has furloughed 8,721 employees, about  68% of its staff.

The furlough has caused a delay in inspections of imported canned foods. While FDA is maintaining enough staff to handled emergencies, high-risk recalls, and criminal investigations, most of its food safety activities have been minimized. Only one employee at the CDC is tracking all environmental, and food and water borne diseases instead of the usual six employees, and that person is not monitoring Campylobacter or Shigella.  The CDC is not surveilling for flu outbreaks. The number of epidemiologists who are monitoring and responding to outbreak clusters is down to seven from eighteen, which is dangerous since the CDC is currently tracking 30 illness clusters, some in the very early stages.

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