A vast majority of inspections at food manufacturing and processing facilities have been suspended as a consequence of the federal government shutdown. How serious this may turn out to be for the nation's food safety is still unclear but many people fear that putting food inspections on hold might result in a failure to prevent contaminated food products from reaching the market.
The most critical sector -- meat production and packaging -- will still be inspected, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated. But since most of the food industry is overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the bulk of the inspections will be stopped. According to a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services, quoted by the Huffington Post, the majority of FDA food inspectors have been deemed "non-essential."
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Official figures reveal that in fiscal 2011 approximately 20,000 facilities across the country were inspected. This means that about 80 facilities were checked every day. If the shutdown continues until Oct. 17 there will be 960 facilities that go uninspected, the Huffington Post calculated.
It is important to note that there is no way to know whether the suspension of FDA inspections would pose any risks to public health. But most industry experts agree that the possibility of having their facility inspected at any time keeps manufacturers alert.