top of page
  • Writer's pictureJadon Groves

Has the Government Shutdown Affected Food Safety?

According to FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA inspects approximately 160 domestic food operations each week, with about one-third of those inspections being considered “high-risk.” While monitoring of these high-risk food products (high-risk facilities that produce seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, soft cheese, prepared foods and infant formula) is prioritized during the shutdown, anyone who can do math can see that both high-risk and low-risk food production is affected by the FDA shutdown.

One of the riskiest segments of food production is premade meals. Bagged salads, frozen meals and meal kits are only three of the popular foods most susceptible to food contamination or spoilage problems. With a nation trying to fight obesity by eating fresh, convenient foods, we have no room for any sort of let up in the realm of food inspection.

The government shutdown has had the following impact:

  1. Routine inspections will not happen this month.

Keep in mind, not every food manufacturer is inspected each month. In fact, non-meat facilities are only inspected once every two to three years, so the fact that routine inspections have been delayed may not have much of an immediate impact on the safety of American produced food products. However, as time passes, these delayed inspections will have a cumulative effect on food quality and safety.

  1. Slaughterhouses and meat processors, which are not allowed to operate without a U.S.D.A. (United States Department of Agriculture) inspector on-site, will operate only when there is an inspector on-site. This means some plants may not be able process meat in a timely manner, affecting cost and productivity.

  2. Inspectors continue to monitor food that enters the United States from abroad, again, without pay.

  3. Inspectors are also investigating any concerning cases that are reported, such as an outbreak or contamination report, also without pay.

Relying on an Unpaid Workforce

But what happens if the inspectors call in sick? Like the “Blue Flu” affecting TSA workers (about 10% of TSA workers have called in sick simply to protest working without pay, and since their uniforms are blue, this quiet protest has been nicknamed the “Blue Flu”), inspectors may also be disinclined to show up to work day in and day out when their paychecks are being withheld. Can anyone blame them?

Going Private

You might think food companies would revel in this lapse of inspections. When the cat’s away, the mice will play, right? In most cases, food companies are smarter than this. Prudent food manufacturers and food companies understand the real risk of food product contamination or problems related to food quality.

Many food companies, especially large companies who completely understand the risk of a food product recall, have already hired third party auditors to monitor their production processes and end-game food quality and safety. Why? Because a recall will cost them more than the money spent on product that must be tracked, recalled, retrieved, and in many cases, destroyed. A food recall can cause product or brand damage that may never be overcome. Illness or contaminated food is the last thing you want consumers associating with the brand you’ve worked so hard to promote.

Not only does a recall affect a brand, but in some cases it also can affect consumer buying habits of entire food products.

Think about the romaine lettuce recall. Since inspectors could not (at one point in the 2018 recall) pinpoint exact growers or production companies, the CDC issued a broad brush warning against consumption of romaine lettuce regardless of where it was grown, packaged or sold. As a result, most restaurants who used to serve lettuces made primarily of romaine have switched to other greens, and chances are they won’t revert back to romaine again anytime soon. Likewise, everyday consumers are still choosing alternate lettuces even though the FDA now says lettuce produced outside of California is probably fine.

Even though the CDC has declared the romaine outbreak over, it will be a long time before romaine lettuce sales return to normal.

Why Use a Private Food Safety Inspector?

While most established food corporations deliberately choose to be privately audited, smaller food companies often don’t realize how important it is to be proactive. There are several reasons to hire a private food safety or food quality inspector:

  • If you set a higher standard than expected by the FDA or USDA, you will protect yourself from an accidental breach of government standards. Any mistake caught by a private auditor can be corrected before a more serious problem occurs.

  • A private inspector will work with you. After all, you are paying them to help you make proactive decisions that benefit the company and consumers at large.

  • Additional certifications will set your product head and shoulders above the competition (that has not sought out additional monitoring). As consumers become more and more informed, they know to look for evidence that you have adhered to specific food safety and quality standards.

  • A private food quality inspector will help you ensure your product’s consistency in quality. This is of significant importance to consumers, who expect your food product to be reliably of the same quality every time they buy it. If one time your product is runny and the next time it’s viscous, the consumer will be concerned. Food quality is of great importance when it comes to establishing and protecting your brand.

Finding the Right Food Safety Consultant

Remember back when you were sourcing a co-manufacturer or a co-packer? It’s not an easy task, right? Finding the right food safety consultant is challenging for many of the same reasons it’s hard to find a co-man. You need someone who understands your niche of the food industry, including related research and development, food product specs, production, packaging, transportation, warehousing and shelf life.

Whole Brain Consulting has devoted an entire branch to food safety and development, including:

  • Third party audits

  • Sanitation strategies

  • Quality process development

  • Regulatory compliance

  • Food safety audit support

  • Virtual product reviews

  • Gold standard manuals

  • Process specifications

  • Finished product specifications

  • Supplier approvals

  • Food safety methodology for ingredient sourcing, production, packaging, transportation, labeling and documentation

To speak with a food safety consultant, contact us through our online contact form and schedule an appointment with Brandon Hernandez through the interactive calendar that will display after you submit your contact form. Brandon has over 10 years of experience in every aspect of food safety, R&D and sanitation applications. We look forward to working with you!

5 views0 comments


bottom of page