Shutdown halts Michigan domestic produce inspections

By: - January 9, 2019 11:03 pm

Domestic produce being sold in Michigan grocery stores is not being federally inspected because of the partial government shutdown, according to state agriculture experts and national media reports.

The shutdown has halted federal inspections of domestic produce, including fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S., per a federal lobbyist for the Michigan Farm Bureau and another agriculture expert with the organization.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the department is considering reopening those functions. But for now, produce from states including Florida and California — two that still grow and ship fresh foods that land in Michigan grocery stores during the state’s cold winter — is not subjected to typically routine federal safety checks. The inspectors who would do so are currently furloughed amid the shutdown.

Meanwhile, Michigan will not be ramping up any routine food safety inspections at grocery stores due to the federal government shutdown, according to Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“Unfortunately, no,” Holton said. “We will do the best that we can, as we do every day.”

But that will not include inspecting produce shipped from other states, Holton said. Interstate commerce does not fall under state jurisdiction when it comes to safety inspections, she noted.

Since November, at least 59 people from 15 states and Washington, D.C., fell ill to salmonella because of tainted Romaine lettuce, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was before the government shutdown.

In December, the FDA issued a recall of lettuce and cauliflower shipped to a host of states. Michigan was not one of them.

Ernie Birchmeier, an industry relations manager for the Michigan Farm Bureau, and John Kran, a national lobbyist for the same group, said consumers should not be worried right now because many retailers opt for stringent third party inspections.

“Remember, none of those retailers want to have any food safety concerns either,” said Birchmeier. “We have the most strict and enhanced food safety protocols in the world in this country.”

Birchmeier and Kran said produce from California, Florida or other parts of the country still growing during the winter will likely be inspected by third-party groups hired by retailers and still meet food safety requirements.

But the federal department that normally ensures that will happen is not currently doing so.

The federal government has halted almost all of its food inspection, according to reports from NBC News, the Washington Post and other national media.

Representatives for Kroger, Costco, Meijer and retailer associations did not immediately return calls and emails to the Michigan Advance regarding food safety at Michigan stores during the government shutdown.

According to a series of tweets from FDA commissioner Gottlieb, the federal department is “taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance” to include high-risk food such as fresh fruits and vegetables and processed fruits and vegetables. That also includes spices, shell eggs, sandwiches, prepared salads, infant formula and medical foods.


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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.