Sunday, October 6, 2013
WHICH FOOD COULD BECOME UNSAFE BECAUSE OF GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?
A lot of U.S. government workers are being furloughed because of the Government shutdown. That includes thousands of food inspectors.
So what? Do we really need food inspectors? Or, should we consider them "non-essential" government personnel? In other words, can we simply dispense with them with no harmful effects on our health?
The answer to this question is largely a matter of opinion. Here is mine: Yes, the safety of our food will suffer if less inspections take place. And, so will our health.
So which of our food items are likely to become more unsafe? A bit of background: there are two main federal agencies responsible for food safety in the U.S.- the FDA (which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services) through its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FDA/CFSAN) and the USDA, through the Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS). Responsibilities for food safety are divided up between the two, with the FDA in charge of some 80% of our food.
Unfortunately, it is the FDA which is having to let more food safety personnel go on furlough. Therefore, the foods that are likely to become more unsafe in the United States (and, in countries which import U.S. food) are the ones that are FDA/CFSAN responsibility: fruits and vegetables, seafood, whole (fresh) eggs and processed foods. There are less likely to be more problems with meat and poultry and egg products (liquid, frozen or dried eggs) - which are USDA responsibility and, are likely to continue being inspected as usual.
But ultimately all our food supply is likely to become more unsafe, because the CDC, which is in charge of investigating any outbreaks, including those that seem to be caused by food, has also had to furlough its epidemiological staff. Therefore, if we do have a large multi-state outbreak linked to a widely eaten food product (and there have been many in the past) we are likely to have serious problems.
All in all, this is not a good situation. The sooner the U.S. government gets back to operating again, the better.
To your good health,