The answer is complicated and it depends on who you ask.
The US Food and Drug Administration resumed on Tuesday some food safety inspections that had stopped since the start of the government shutdown on December 22. Inspectors who are back at work do so without pay.
When asked what foods he would not eat during the shutdown, food safety lawyer Bill Marler said, "I would say everything you do not control yourself. So any fresh and uncooked product on the market, like ready-to-eat products. eat prepackaged salads and sandwiches, or meals that are not cooked.
Her list: "Cabbages, leafy vegetables, ready-to-eat products like cheese, ice cream, I'd be particularly suspicious if you're a pregnant woman, children, people whose immune system is compromised." not completely. "
Marler is a food safety lawyer who represents people who become ill or the families of people who die as a result of a foodborne illness. He represented clients whose cases had led legislators to adopt the law on the modernization of food security.
He added that even in the absence of government closure, the FDA did not have enough inspectors, noting that 80% of the food under FDA jurisdiction was inspected.
"We are already in a deficit … when you reduce something to the FDA, you reduce a lot," he said.
"I'm worried about foods for institutions such as hospitals, retirement homes … I worry about our most vulnerable consumers," said Catherine Donnelly, a professor at the University of Toronto. University of Vermont and expert in microbiological food safety.
However, she said that her confidence in the security of the US food supply is still high, even during the closed period. The FDA is only one element of the security system, she said.
"The FDA has made it clear that the responsibility for food safety lies with the companies," she said. "They just have the responsibility to monitor and determine if there are violations, and to a large extent the work of food security is already done very well, I think, by the food industry in general. .
"Consumers should continue to trust the trusted brands they trust and the willingness of companies to take the steps they need to provide them with healthy food."
Grocers "have many customer specifications and customer requirements on the products they buy," she said.
But other consumer groups share Marler's concerns on the security of food supplies during closure, even with the return to work of some licensed inspectors.
"We advise people to continue using common sense measures – rinsing their vegetables, rinsing their fruits, cooking their meat, not eating raw meat, and just doing all the normal things you should Anyway, the time has come and everything should be okay, "said Alex Berezow, vice president of scientific affairs at the US Council for Science and Health, a scientist consumer advocacy organization, in an e-mail. . He added that there was not really any food to avoid and added, "If you have doubts about food, throw it away."
Legislators are also questioning about food security right now. Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, has a congressional caucus scheduled for Wednesday to "highlight the impact of the federal government's closure on the US Department of Agriculture's food security programs ( USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ".
The FDA ended some routine food safety inspections at the start of the government shutdown three weeks ago.
"We are resuming high risk food inspections tomorrow, we will also be doing compositional inspections this week, and we have started sampling high-risk imported products in the Northeast region. of the week.Our teams are working, "Gottlieb said in a tweet on Monday.
Last week, Gottlieb said the FDA is taking steps to "expand the scope of the food safety oversight inspections we conduct during the closure to ensure we continue to inspect high-risk food facilities" . He pointed out that "31% of our stocks of national inspections are considered high risk"; these are the inspections that the agency is now trying to take back.
This concerns routine household surveillance inspections of foods, including seafood, custard-filled bakery products, soft-ripened soft-cheeses and cheese products, non-custard pasteurized, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, sandwiches and infant formula, among other food products.
"There is no doubt that this has an impact and that things are not going as usual," Gottlieb tweeted last week, adding, "There is a very concerted effort to take on essential functions and focus on our consumer protection mission, in many cases, relying on excepted employees are not paid. "
The FDA said Tuesday in a statement: "The US food supply is among the safest in the world" and "focuses on maintaining critical activities that have a direct impact on consumer safety and saving consumers. lives, including food security ". The agency also said it was working to develop inspections, monitoring and sampling beyond what had been done at previous government closures.
Marler said that although inspectors are dedicated and good at their work, it's hard to stay focused when you're worried about paying bills.
"If people are naturally focused on the economy rather than on their work, there will inevitably be an error, whether it's about food security or aviation safety," he said. declared.
He fears that something is falling through the cracks and notes that "the most important part [when it comes to outbreaks] prevents the disease from occurring in the first place. "
This prevention step can occur when a routine inspection identifies a pathogen causing a disease, such as E. coli or salmonella. But if the inspections do not occur or take place in a limited way, then this pathogen can enter the food at the factory and potentially make someone sick.
"As many routine inspections accumulate without having been done, a backlog problem will have to be solved once the government is operational, but we do not know when it will be done." Tony Corbo, lead lobbyist for the Food and Water Watch public interest advocacy campaign.
According to Gottlieb, the agency conducts about 160 domestic inspections of food products a week in the absence of closure. According to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, 41% of all FDA employees are on leave.
Not all inspections were affected by the closure. From the beginning, the agency said that she continued to "inspect the facilities when we think that an imminent threat to life and health exists". This concerns inspections related to recalls, outbreaks and high-risk foods, for example, because manufacturers or facilities have a history of infractions. In addition, all regular inspections of food imported outside the United States also continued.
Meat, poultry and egg inspections are handled by the USDA. This agency continues inspections "to ensure the safety of human life".
"There is nothing that individual consumers can do to protect themselves, other than lobbying President and Congress to get our food security workers back to work with the salary they deserve" said Mr. Sorscher. "We recognize that if the risks go away, it's not so bad, but the impact will be worse.
"I do not know how long they [food inspectors] go before you start protesting by not showing up at work. "
Kevin Flower from CNN contributed to this report.