How Is the Government Shutdown Affecting Food Safety

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Here’s the good news: PulseNet, a government-run network of public health labs that spots and reports on foodborne illness outbreaks, is up and running again, albeit with a skeleton staff, as the government shutdown drags on.

Harvesting lettuce in Salinas
Image: Krista Kennell/ZUMA Press

Now the bad news: More than 300 people in 18 states have been sickened by a salmonella outbreak tied to a California chicken facility… and many of those cases appear resistant to antibiotics.

So here's some info about what's going on with food safety (and inspections) during the shutdown (and how you can protect your family).  

DON’T WORRY: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service is continuing inspections at meat and poultry production facilities with full-time inspectors.

WORRY: The Food and Drug Administration is the agency actually responsible for the safety of most of the country’s food industry (80%!), including (and especially) imported seafood, produce and food products. The bulk of the FDA inspectors are currently not working.

DON’T WORRY: If you buy locally sourced fish, or domestic wild-caught or domestic farmed fish, you’re probably in good shape.

WORRY: Eighty-percent of the seafood we eat is imported. Without anyone doing the inspections, how do we know what kind of shape that shrimp was in before they froze it off the coast of Mexico?

DON’T WORRY: Many farmers’ markets are still up and running around the country, so stock up on as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible. Freeze what you can. You may also want to reconsider that whole canning idea you pooh-poohed in June.

WORRY: As it gets later in the season, much of the supermarket produce, like berries and lettuce, will be brought in from Mexico, Chile and Central America. If the shutdown continues, FDA inspectors won’t be there to make sure the baby spinach is E. Coli-free.

Troubling, confusing and very scary. So... what’s YOUR game plan?

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