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How The Government Shutdown Is Affecting Our Food Safety

Earlier this month, the partial government shutdown caused the Food and Drug Administration to postpone its inspection of various foods, leaving many Americans wondering if their safety is at risk.

Here’s the lowdown at this current moment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which monitors the country’s meat and poultry slaughterhouses, has reported that 90 percent of its workforce remains on the job.

The FDA, which is responsible for flagging food safety issues on all other foods (you may remember the recent romaine recall), resumed many of its inspections on Jan. 15. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who shares regular updates on Twitter, said that furloughed workers were being recalled to do their jobs unpaid.

On Jan. 16, Gottlieb tweeted an update, saying a bill had been signed into law that would “guarantee that federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay will be compensated for the period of funding lapse.”

Most of the foods affected by the inspection delays are low-risk foods that aren’t typically the cause of foodborne illnesses. Instead, FDA workers have been conducting regular inspections on “high risk” foods, which make up about 31 percent of the agency’s workload. Here’s the list of foods that are still being inspected:

Modified atmosphere packaged products; acidified and low acid canned foods; seafood; custard filled bakery products; dairy products including soft, semi-soft, soft ripened cheese and cheese products, unpasteurized juices; sprouts ready-to-eat; fresh fruits and vegetables and processed fruits and vegetables; spices; shell eggs; sandwiches; prepared salads; infant formula; and medical foods.

The FDA defines a foodborne illness, of which there are 48 million cases a year in the U.S., as a reaction to consuming food contaminated with pathogens, chemicals or toxins. Essentially, foods deemed to be at highest risk of carrying foodborne illnesses are still being regularly inspected. This could change, however, so it’s important to check Gottlieb’s Twitter account, which posts frequent updates.

Regardless of the FDA’s rate of food inspections, it’s always a good idea to practice the agency’s food safety guidelines when cooking at home. Follow the guidelines in the infographics below for best practices.



HuffPost readers: Are you affected by the government shutdown? Email us about it. If you’re willing to be interviewed, please provide a phone number.

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