FDA Shutdown’s Effect on Food Safety: None.
In recent discussions, Ben England, Founder and CEO of FDAImports.com said:
“This shutdown will be felt by the trade, but it will not impact food safety. As a general rule, FDA compliance officers are considered essential. Food recall coordinators are usually considered essential. So they will be working. Some FDA districts are going more skeleton than others in the investigations branch, where most of the impact will be felt. The Office of Regulatory Affairs (the inspection, scientific, compliance, enforcement arm of FDA) burns its resources mostly in inspections/investigations and then laboratory services.
So it pans out like this: FDA compliance will still be working, but import inspections/samplings will slow down except for higher-risk, perishable shipments. For instance, the Southwest Import District will focus on imported fresh produce, but I would expect their inspections of imported canned foods to go down.
The true impact, though, depends upon whether FDA reduces its electronic screening rates during the shutdown.
It is not uncommon that FDA’s electronic import screening hit rates (targeting import inspections through PREDICT and OASIS) are higher than actual inspections conducted. But an FDA person – an entry reviewer or an inspector – has to override the electronic hold in the FDA Import system for the cargo to proceed without risk of being told to bring it back. That FDA person would likely be affected by the shutdown. If FDA does not reduce its electronic screening rates during the shutdown, then FDA will continue issuing electronic holds on imported food that cannot be followed up on, causing unnecessary delays in release of cargo for distribution. Note: there is a substantial number of these electronic holds that require presentation of documentation but never actually go all the way to physical inspection, much less sampling – so these are shipments FDA would have released that it will now not release, simply because there is no one sitting at the computer terminal to hit the Enter Key. These delays will have a real impact on imported food (and imported cosmetic and drug) trade, even though there will be little impact on food safety.
So what is the impact on food safety? None. It is already known that FDA only physically inspects/samples less than 2% of all imported shipments. The higher-risk shipments and perishables will still be inspected/sampled at some rate, but if that rate went to 1.5%, who cares? Frankly, if it went up to 3.5%, who cares? The numbers are so low that they prove, yet again, that FDA is not protecting consumers from unsafe food – good food Manufacturers, Growers and Importers are protecting consumers, every day, and they do not shut down just because the government does.
And you can quote me on that.”