(CNN) — Its the longest shutdown in the history of the federal government, and there’s no end in sight.

So, should you be worried about the safety of your food? The answer is complicated, and it depends who you ask.

“We are very concerned that the shutdown may lead to lapses in food safety, but we don’t know where or when these will happen,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.

On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration resumed some food safety inspections that had stopped since the government shutdown began on December 22. Inspectors who are back on the job are doing so without pay.

When asked what foods he won’t eat during the shutdown, food safety attorney Bill Marler said, “I would say anything you aren’t controlling yourself, so any fresh, uncooked products on the market place,” such as ready-to-eat salads and prepackaged sandwiches, or meals that aren’t cooked.

His list: “Sprouts, leafy greens, ready to eat products like cheese, ice cream. I would be especially suspect if you’re a pregnant woman, children, people with a compromised immune system. I would stay away from it completely.”

Marler is a food safety attorney who represents people who became sick or families of people who died from a foodborne illness. He represented clients whose cases led lawmakers to pass the Food Safety Modernization Act.

He says even when there isn’t a government shutdown, the FDA doesn’t have enough inspectors, noting that 80% of the food that falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA is inspected.

“We’re already at a deficit … when you’re cutting back anything at FDA you’re cutting back on a lot,” he said.

“I worry about those foods that are going to institutions like hospitals, like nursing homes … I worry about our most vulnerable consumers,” said Catherine Donnelly, a professor at the University of Vermont and expert on the microbiological safety of food.

However, she said her confidence in the safety of the US food supply is still high, even during the shutdown. The FDA is only one part of the safety system, she said.

“The FDA made it really clear that the responsibility for food safety lies with the companies,” she said. “They just have responsibility for oversight and determining whether there are violations. To a large extent, the job of food safety is already being done very well I think by the food industry at large.

“Consumers should continue to have confidence in those brand names that they trust and the willingness of companies to do the right thing in providing them with safe food.”

The FDA stopped some routine food safety inspections at the start of the government shutdown three weeks ago.

“We re-starting high risk food inspections as early as tomorrow. 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,” Gottlieb said in a tweet Monday.

The FDA said in a statement Tuesday, “The American food supply is among the safest in the world” and is “focused on maintaining core activities that directly impact consumer safety and save lives — including pertaining to food safety.” The agency also noted that it is working to expand inspections, monitoring and sampling beyond what has been done during previous government shutdowns.

 

CBS Detroit
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