The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that the agency would be resuming its inspections of food facilities using unpaid staff, Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Monday.
"This was a major functional accomplishment amidst one of the biggest operational challenges in FDA’s modern history and it was fully enabled by the leadership of FDA’s field force and the colleagues who serve the country on the front lines of that mission," Gottlieb wrote on Twitter.
Hundreds of furloughed employees have reportedly agreed to come back and restart inspections that stopped when the partial federal government shutdown began on Dec. 22.
"We re-starting high risk food inspections as early as tomorrow," Gottlieb wrote. "We'll also do compounding inspections this week. And we started sampling high risk imported produce in the northeast region today. We'll expand our footprint as the week progresses. Our teams are working."
Much of the FDA's work is funded by industry user fees, and wasn't affected by the shutdown. However, inspections of food-producing facilities stopped once the government ran out of money last month.
Gottlieb didn't say exactly how many inspectors would be returning to work, but said it could be up to 700 workers returning. The agency employees around 5,000 food inspectors who make around 160 inspections a month.
"We restarted the sampling assignment today and tomorrow we will restart the high-risk food inspections," Gottlieb said.
"By next week we will have restarted all the medical product inspections that weren’t covered by user fees that were shut down," he added. "That includes things like compounding inspections."
Inspections of meat and many egg products were not interrupted by the shutdown as those are conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Those inspectors have been working without pay since the shutdown began because the law requires continuous USDA inspections.
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