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Government shutdown stops FDA food safety inspections, local farmers urge local support

Posted at 11:11 PM, Jan 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-11 02:11:13-05

The government shutdown could be affecting the food you eat.

Thousands of Food and Drug Administration inspectors are no longer monitoring the nation’s food supply. But there has been no better time to buy locally grown food, according to local farmers.

Nearly three full weeks into the shutdown, it is not business as usual at the FDA.

“We are not doing all the things we would do under normal circumstances. There are important things we are not doing,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said. The FDA plans to resume at least some inspections, but it would require furloughed workers to come back without pay, NBC News reported.

Gottlieb said he is trying to pinpoint the most essential inspections, while making sure that employees do not suffer too much.

Right now, FDA inspectors are not looking for salmonella in breakfast cerealE. coli in romaine lettuce, or listeria in ice cream. Companies can still make their own checks, of course, and the FDA is still announcing those recalls.

About 31% of inventory of domestic inspections are considered high risk

But in San Luis Obispo, the work by county inspectors continues on locally grown food.

“We inspect the farmer’s market so you have your produces down there, you have your best practices by the farmers,” said Laurie Salo, SLO County Supervising Environmental Health Specialist. “We inspect the restaurants. We inspect anywhere where the food going into commerce here and going out to the public.”

Michael Cirone, owner of Cirone Farms, is happy to have the help.

“That’s good, this is one of the stricter counties when it comes to food safety issues,” he said.

On a brisk January night, Farmer’s Market in downtown is abuzz. Fresh cherry tomatoes, snap-peas and lemons were ready to be sold.

Cirone says buying local here on the Central Coast is a unique opportunity for consumers.

“You can not only buy locally at Farmer’s Market, but a lot of grocery stores here carry local product. The more you know where your product comes from, the better chances are you’re going to be acquiring safe produce,” Cirone said.

“Always now, always buy local,” said Alvin O’Neal, owner of Gracious Greens. “Try to buy as local and support all of us as possible.”

Still the shutdown and trade war with China isn’t without headaches for local farmers.

“We can’t get ahold of USDA now,” Cirone said. “Their offices in Santa Maria are shut. It’s really disconcerting really, on top of the tariffs coming out of china. [Agriculture] is starting to get a little pinched.”

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program benefits continue during the government shutdown. “We want to let everyone know that our WIC offices are open and grocers are accepting WIC checks,” said Tara Kennon, the county’s communication director. “Participants who have WIC checks for food should continue to use them at WIC grocers as usual. The stores must accept and redeem them while federal funding is available, and California WIC is funded through at least March.”

Viewers who are interested in WIC hours and other details can find more information here.