4 Food Safety Tips to Help You Stay Healthy During the Shutdown
You’re unlikely to get sick during the shutdown, but if you want to be cautious, here are some expert tips.
One of the effects of the current government shutdown is that food inspections by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been reduced. According to The Washington Post, the agency has had to suspend all of its routine inspections at U.S.-based food-processing facilities. And while the agency has been working on a plan to resume inspections at high-risk facilities (those that handle more sensitive products like seafood, or that have had a history of problems) this week, they've also continued some of their vital services during the shutdown, like responding to public health emergencies.
While missing inspections sounds scary, it’s not quite as dire as it seems. “FDA officials have stated that they only missed about 20+, low-risk inspections,” in the last week, says Darian Carrow, a staff writer for ConsumerSafety.org, an organization that brings awareness to consumers about problematic drugs and products. “We should continue to eat normally,” Carrow says. The FDA inspects food facilities once every few years, so chances are none of your food has even missed an inspection.
Still, since official investigations by the FDA have been postponed, there's a chance that there could be consequences for consumers. “This could mean potentially missing signs of potential outbreaks or contaminations as we've seen in recent recalls such as listeria, salmonella, etc.,” Carrow says. But since most food facilities weren’t scheduled for inspection in the last few weeks, it’s unlikely that you’ll get sick due to a missed inspection.
If you’re concerned about food safety during the shutdown, here are a few tips to help you navigate the grocery store until the shutdown ends.
1. You Can Keep Buying Meat, Poultry, and Eggs Normally
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that it will continue to ensure that meat, poultry, and egg products are safe for consumers, even during the government shutdown. The service has continued its inspections and investigations for meat, poultry, and eggs, so you can continue buying those products like you normally would.
2. If You’re Worried About Fruits and Veggies, Buy Local
In particular, the recent wide-spread romaine lettuce recall had many consumers concerned about the safety of produce. Gay Browne, an environmental health advisor, recommends buying your produce from a local farmer’s market or a grocery store that sources produce locally if you’re worried about the safety of your fruits and veggies. “These local providers have a high-quality of food and food safety which makes the end product more valuable to the consumer,” Browne says. “In addition to being able to trust farmers who sell you produce week after week, farmers want to keep themselves, their workers, and their crops and soil safe, so they value organic agricultural practices.”
3. If Your Farmers Market is Closed, Try Raw Ingredient Food Boxes
Unfortunately, since the shutdown is happening in the dead of winter, not everyone has access to their local farmers market right now, and local produce at your grocery store might be limited. If that’s the case, you can try to get your produce from organic meal kit services, like Sun Basket (currently shipping to 47 states) or Farm Fresh To You (only available on the west coast). Both services get their food from organic suppliers that don’t use pesticides, so they’re a good alternative if your farmers market isn’t open. “These services pre-wash all their food so this is one more safety stop designed to protect the end user,” Browne says.
4. If You Want to be Extra Cautious, Avoid These Foods Until Inspections Resume
Even though the chances of getting sick during the shutdown are relatively low, if you really want to be cautious, there are a few foods that are a little more high-risk you can avoid until inspections resume. “High-risk foods are foods that have a historical public health significance in regards to outbreaks, cases of food-borne illnesses, and the amount of processing factors,” says Carrow. For example, ready-to-eat salads have been linked to outbreaks of illness in the past, so if you really want to be cautious, you could skip over them at the store as the shutdown continues. “Sticking with the pregnant woman’s food rules is a great mind set to stick at times like these,” Browne says. That means avoiding some foods that are more high-risk, like soft cheeses or unpasteurized dairy. “I focus on vegetables I can peel too,” Browne adds.
Keep in mind that even if you follow these guidelines during the shutdown, you’re not guaranteed to avoid getting sick. But it’s also important to remember that getting sick from a recalled food is relatively rare. Unless the FDA announces otherwise, all the food you can find at your local grocery store should be safe to eat. If you want to be extra cautious until the shutdown ends, try to find local foods you can eat, and support the farmers in your area.