FDA to restart food inspections with unpaid staff

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By Maggie Fox

The Food and Drug Administration will resume its inspections of food facilities on Tuesday, using unpaid staff, Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Monday.

Gottlieb said hundreds of furloughed employees have agreed to come back and restart inspections that stopped with the federal government shutdown, which started on Dec. 22.

“It’s going to be hundreds of inspectors who were furloughed who are coming back to work,” Gottlieb told NBC News.

“Tomorrow we will restart high-risk food inspections.” High-risk foods include cheese, other dairy products and some fresh produce. Lower-risk foods include baked goods.

Gottlieb said last week he would try to recall about 10 percent of food inspectors. His staff had been calling furloughed staff to see who would or could come back to work, even though they are not getting paid.

“We got an overwhelming response from our very dedicated and mission-driven field force who are coming back to work unpaid,” he said.

The partial government shutdown hit the FDA hard. Much of the agency’s work is funded by industry user fees, and thus was not affected. But inspections of food-producing facilities is covered by taxpayer money and was cut off by the shutdown.

Gottlieb has said the agency employs roughly 5,000 inspectors, making about 160 inspections a month. He said he could not say precisely how many inspectors were coming back to work, but said it could be around 700.