Work on regulations relating to the Food Safety Modernization Act has been suspended during the shutdown.
The Alliance for a Stronger FDA reported the federal shutdown has led to the furloughing of 6,600 FDA employees, or about 45% of the workforce.
Gombas said no FDA laboratory staff is available to process produce submitted to the agency because of food-safety related import alerts. “There is nobody around to review it,” he said.
In that case, loads flagged for FDA automatic review because of previous food safety incidents are apparently not crossing into the U.S., Gombas said.
FDA officials at the border are clearing loads of imported produce but not taking routine samples for testing, Gombas said.
The lack of USDA f.o.b. price reports during the shutdown does leave a data void for some buyers, said Jay Martini, Chicago-based broker. Foodservice companies use the USDA price reports to help them set prices, Martini said.
“There are pricing programs that are based off USDA reports every week,” he said.
Steven Grossman, deputy executive director for the Silver Spring, Md.-based Alliance for a Stronger FDA, said he has received calls from media about the effect of the government shutdown on food safety.
“The way I’m answering people is that there are three levels of protection: There are the producers, there is the FDA and the stuff that consumers ought to be doing themselves,” he said.
Grossman said the typical consumer does not pay attention to food safety principles at home such as washing produce before they consume it.
“It is more important now that FDA is not in the picture, but when the FDA goes back to work they still should do those things,” he said.