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Government Shutdown Impacting FDA Inspections

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) -- Making his way through the produce section of Kowalski's Market, Tim Whalen knows the safety of his food is critical.

"I think in America, it's huge. A lot of the big producers are very large, so they distribute all over the place and it's very hard to figure out where it came from," Whalen said.

In the past year, everything from romaine lettuce to cereal has been recalled by the Food and Drug Administration. But now, there are new food concerns in light of the partial government shutdown.

Due to furloughed workers, the FDA has stopped doing most routine food safety inspections. Foreign food imported to the United States is still being inspected, outbreaks are still being investigated and recalls are still being issued.

University of Minnesota Public Health Professor Doctor Craig Hedberg told WCCO-TV it is possible something could slip through the cracks while inspectors are off the job.

"They play a critical role in providing some oversight in making sure that the plants are operating properly," Hedberg said.

But food producers are also checked by local and state officials, in addition to doing their own safety inspections, so in the short term, Hedberg does not have big concerns.

"Our food producers really take that responsibility very seriously, and that doesn't go away just because there's no inspector there to perform an inspection," Hedberg said.

In the face of gridlock, the agency is trying to get some employees back as soon as possible to check up on "high risk" foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, baby formula and seafood.

About 80 percent of the nation's food supply is inspected by the FDA.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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