As the latest government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, moves towards its fifth week, already the longest in history, an estimated 800,000 federal workers continue to go unpaid. One of the nine affected departmentsis the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tasked with monitoring the food we eat to ensure its safety.
Because funding is longer being funneled into the agency, the FDA is reportedly lacking the ability to adequately publicize recalls, outbreaks, and other information vital to human health. Last year, the FDA published a number of major recalls including romaine lettuce, which has killed five people, eggs, cake mix, and yogurt. Now, with their inability to operate at full capacity, and no clear indication of when the shutdown (sparked by a dispute between the president and Congress over funding for a border wall) will end, the public should be somewhat worried about knowing what foods are safe to eat.
Dietitian Jackie Arnett Elnahar, who specializes in weight loss and disease prevention, had stated that until the FDA is able to monitor and report recalls at full capacity the public should avoid consuming raw foods and processed meats, both of which are highly prone to contamination. Romaine lettuce continues to be on the list as well as broccoli, alfalfa and other sprouted vegetables which are susceptible to E. coli, a bacteria which lives in the intestines of people and animals and can cause causediarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
“Ground beef should be avoided since it uses the meat of many different animals. Opt for bigger-piece meats that are less likely to be contaminated, such as steak,” said Elnahar. “It is also very important to cook more. Cooking foods thoroughly at 165 degrees Fahrenheit can kill E. coli, salmonella and listeria.” Before the onset of the shutdown, the FDA was posting multiple food recalls and safety notices daily. Now the currently unpaid employees that are still working have shifted to a focus of only “high-risk” items. Renowned food-borne illness lawyer Bill Marler said to avoid any ready-to-eat products that likely contain pathogens, like cheeses, deli meats, leafy greens or sprouts.
Anything that doesn’t have a “kill step.” In addition to this advice, The Daily Meal, provides some tips on how to take it a step further and protect yourself from food poisoning including:
—Thoroughly washing your hands or using sanitizer before handling food
—Use a a food thermometer to ensure that meat is being cooked to the appropriate internal temperature;
—Immediately refrigerate leftovers;–Store raw meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator; keeping your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower (freezer at 0 degrees);
—Pay attention to “use by” an “best buy” dates; and defrosting foods properly by leaving in the refrigerator overnight or using the defrost setting on the microwave.
Also, some grocery stores subscribe to social media outlets and may provide additional information on recalls not announced by the FDA.