WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration has put an end to safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and many other foods at high risk of contamination due to the federal government's closure, Dr Scott said Wednesday. Gottlieb, the commissioner of the agency.
F.D.A. inspectors generally examine operations in approximately 160 manufacturing and food processing plants in Canada each week. Nearly a third of them are considered to be at high risk of foodborne illness. In the United States, foodborne illnesses send about 128,000 people to hospital each year and kill 3,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The country's meat and poultry are still inspected by the Department of Agriculture staff, but they are unpaid. The F.D.A. oversees about 80% of the country's food supply, as well as most imports abroad.
In a series of tweets, Gottlieb said he was taking steps to reinstate food safety oversight inspections and to cover more high-risk sites as the program progresses. closing. He added that he hoped to bring back about 150 inspectors who had been laid off during the closure, possibly as early as next week.
Mr. Gottlieb said that he was always trying to find a way to achieve that goal. "These are people who are now on leave and can get unemployment insurance or a second job," he said. "If we attract them and tell them they have to work, they can not collect. I must make sure not to impose undue hardship. "
Food safety advocates have expressed concern that outbreaks can not be avoided without inspection or are not detected early warning signs.
"These are inspections where they detect problems before people get sick," said Sarah Sorscher, assistant director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a lobby group. "The announcement that they will try to start high-risk inspections is a positive step. But we had outbreaks of high-risk foods – flour, packaged foods. So I think the fact that two-thirds of the establishments are not inspected remains a problem. "
The F.D.A. inspects food businesses to detect insects, rodents, mishandled foods, poor preparation and other hazards.
Mr. Gottlieb stated that product inspections abroad continued despite holidays. He also stated that the agency had maintained oversight of some domestic producers who had a history of problems or posed risks for other reasons.
Shortly after the start of the judgment, the F.D.A. gave inspectors access to a centralized expense account so that they could continue to travel while avoiding large personal credit card bills without knowing when the government would pay them back.
The agency, which is part of the Department of Health and Social Services, does not depend on federal funding for all of its activities. Much of its support comes from user fees imposed on the pharmaceutical industries, medical devices, generic drugs and other sectors it regulates.
Although about 41% of staff are now on leave because the agency did not receive their federal credits prior to closing, those in fee-paying jobs remained at work. But even these departments took a hit, like the F.D.A. had to change its priorities for certain tasks.
In the pharmaceutical section, for example, some officials who generally consider pending drug applications are now working on post-market surveillance, looking for adverse events, such as unexpected side effects of drugs or other problems.
"We are deeply concerned about the employees who have been fired, their inability to perform their public health duties and their considerable personal impact on them," said Ladd Wiley, executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA. , a non-profit organization. advocacy group. "We are also grateful to the 10,000 or so employees who are hired and working."
But, Wiley added, his organization was also concerned about the non-emergency functions that the F.D.A. had to put aside. Among the important work currently being delayed, he noted, are the manufacturing inspections, technical assistance and advice provided to the commodity industry – particularly advice for the prevention of contamination – and activities related to food additives.
"There is a whole list of things that are not happening," he said.
Some public health experts worried about the impact of the closure on fish inspection. Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he was concerned that contaminated shellfish are being found on store shelves during the closure.
In particular, he said, consumers should pay attention to clams, mussels, oysters and other bivalves that may come from contaminated water. "This can be very nasty," said Dr. Rosenberg, formerly responsible for the seafood inspection program led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It can go from E. coli to Vibrio. It is important that people seek an inspection certificate. "
He noted that the NOAA website indicates that inspectors work without pay; The same is true of inspectors of meat and poultry, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Michael Halpern, Deputy Director of the Center for Science and Democracy, thinks that the problem is not just for the workers but also for the consumers if the licensed inspectors turn to temporary jobs to provide for themselves, which creates a shortage.
"We have food epidemics, even in normal times, and if the agency is out of breath, it will not cover much ground," he said.
One of the most important outbreaks of foodborne illness recently involved romaine lettuce. In a little while, the C.D.C. issued a statement On Wednesday, noting that the latest wave of Roman-related problems began in October, 62 people have been affected in 16 states and in the District of Columbia.
C.D.C. and the F.D.A. Part of the contamination dates back to Adam Brothers Farming in Santa Barbara County, California, citing E. coli attributed to an agricultural tank located there. The F.D.A. issued a separate statement in which he stated that he would continue to investigate the source, even if the C.D.C. said that the outbreak was over.