The Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 15 plans to start inspections of high-risk food facilities, which include leafy greens and other fresh-cut processing plants, using mostly unpaid furloughed employees.
In a series of tweets, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced the move during the federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and is now the longest such shutdown. Sampling of products at U.S. ports of entry began again on Jan. 14, he said.
Gottlieb said hundreds of furloughed employees will be inspecting high-risk food facilities and other entities on Jan. 15.
“This was a major functional accomplishment amidst one of the biggest operational challenges in FDA’s modern history and it was fully enabled by the leadership of FDA’s field force and the colleagues who serve the country on the front lines of that mission,” he tweeted.
The California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements, of which most growers of lettuce in those states are members, use inspectors from the state departments of agriculture to inspect and monitor farms, packing/cooling facilities and products.
“The ongoing federal government shutdown has no effect on the on-farm food safety audits conducted through the California and Arizona LGMA programs,” according to a blog post by California LGMA Marketing Director April Ward on the group’s website. “The LGMA programs utilize state agricultural auditors and the audits are funded by industry. In the Winter, Arizona and California produce almost all of the leafy greens grown in the U.S., so farm food safety audits continue and are not affected by the shutdown.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a frequent critic of federal agencies relating to foodborne illness outbreaks, has scheduled a Congressional Food Safety Caucus at 2 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 16. A panel of food safety activists will discuss how the shutdown is affecting the ability of FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct food safety inspections and other activities.
The panelists, according to a release from DeLauro's office, are:
Thomas Gremillion, from the Consumer Federation of America;
Sarah Sorscher, from the Center for Science in the Public Interest; and
Tony Corbo, of Food and Water Watch.