According to a report in The New York Times, FDA inspectors typically examine operations at about 160 domestic manufacturing and food-processing plants weekly, with nearly one-third of them believed to be at high risk of causing foodborne illnesses.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced January 9 in a series of tweets that the agency was doing what it could to continue inspections, but that it was rapidly running out of funds. He said he hoped to bring back about 150 inspectors who had been furloughed during the shutdown, perhaps as early as next week. He said his concern would grow if those inspections were halted for several weeks.
During normal conditions, the FDA inspects roughly 160 USA food production facilities each week.
"Want to calm some fears because of somewhat sensational reporting on the shutdown", Perdue said in a tweet Friday in response to alarming headlines, including those from The New York Times and NBC News, over food inspections halting during the government shutdown. Factors that determine whether a food is more susceptible to contamination include the type of food, how it's made, and the facility's history of violations. It has purview over 80 percent of the country's food supply, along with most foreign imports. Employees who are excepted from the shutdown remain on the job, working without pay, to continue operations that are considered critical for human safety or protection of property, such as continuing food-borne illness investigations and handling unsafe recalls.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which helps with tainted food outbreaks, is not affected by the partial shutdown and on Wednesday said the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce appears to be over. While food companies may also self-check, the FDA provides an additional level of government regulation and oversight.
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections, which cover meat, poultry and egg facilities, have continued during the shutdown.
"It may be a few dozen but not much more", the commissioner said of the postponed inspections.
Food-safety advocates have long argued that they should be inspected more frequently as a routine practice, but FDA has a limited number of inspectors.