The staff of the US Food and Drug Administration has returned to work after being idled by the government shutdown. About 45% of employees (ranging from processing plant inspectors to the incredibly helpful media relations staff) were furloughed for just a little more than two weeks.
Back to work
Now that the US government has reached an arrangement to end the shutdown and the budget standoff that caused it (for now), FDA employees are thrilled that they’re back at the job. Perhaps US consumers and food industry professionals should be thrilled, too--the break was long enough to understore the importance of fully funding the country’s food safety system.
About one week into the shutdown, food safety expert Jeffrey T. Barach told FoodProductionDaily.com that we would see severe consequences come into play if a major product recall happened during the shutdown . While thankfully no large-scale, disease-spreading recall landed in America’s lap, several small recalls did pop up.
Lack of information
Did you know about the recalls? Most civilians didn’t—one of the shutdown’s consequences was that the FDA communications network that spreads the word about recalls was stymied.
During the shutdown, a batch of ice cream whipped up in Pennsylvania was found to contain metal shavings, peppers grown in California were tainted with Salmonella and potato chips bagged in Minnesota contained undeclared allergens. Thanks to the shutdown, the public is largely ignorant about these tainted foods, and therefore at risk.
Because Friday morning will only be the agency’s second day fully staffed after the shutdown, it is perhaps a bit early to predict what the long-term consequences of the shutdown, if any, might be. Like any employees coming back after a two-week-plus hiatus, personnel are still playing catchup with emails, phone calls and paperwork.
However, the editors of FoodQualityNews.com and FoodProductionDaily.com will keep in contact with the FDA, and we will keep you updated on the precise impact that the shutdown has had on the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and other vital threads of the US food safety net.