US Government shutdown and food safety

Regardless of your political leaning, the recent US Government “partial” shutdown has affected the food industry in many ways – one of the most obvious being access to information. If you have visited a website whose URL ends in .gov since October 1st, you’ve undoubtedly received a popup notice announcing that the website is “unavailable due to the government shutdown”. Up until recently, the only way that you could access vital documents stored on was to access a cached version of the website – if you knew how to.

As is the case with much of the confusion surrounding the shutdown, there didn’t seem to be very much reasoning behind which websites would remain available so that you could access stored information on them, and which ones would simply direct you to a newly created website declaring that the entire website had been shutdown and would be unavailable until Congress got its act together and let the government open back up. It seems as though some departments had to furlough their website document repository while others didn’t.

(As of 10/13/13, is once again accessible, though not updated)

In addition to nuisances like not being able to access a website to grab a much needed document, or as I recently found out, not being able to add your number to the national “do not call” registry so that a computer doesn’t call your phone number incessantly throughout the day, the shutdown also means that thousands of FDA employees have been furloughed and things like establishment and compliance inspections, import inspections, and lab activities have come to a halt.

Salmonella, however, proved to us that it hasn’t been furloughed by sickening almost 300 people in 18 states. Salmonella’s cohorts haven’t been furloughed either. While this recent unfortunate food-borne illness outbreak has been great fodder for the bloodthirsty media, it isn’t time to sound the alarm and start eating the canned foods you’ve been saving since the last time everyone was told that the world might end… again.

Why not? Simply put – the government hasn’t been making foods in a safe manner; the food companies have been and still are!

For the better part of 15 years, I have been involved in HACCP in one way or another, whether the company I was working for was making canned vegetables or dog food. Those companies, and thousands like them, are still manufacturing safe food and have not issued statements indicating that they took a break from HACCP because of the recent lapse in funding. A company’s HACCP or GFSI certification doesn’t hinge on whether the Congress of the United States has agreed to pass a budget or not, and those companies who have already achieved those types of certifications, or are on the road to obtaining those certifications, haven’t taken a food safety hiatus.

There is a quote by Henry Ford that is a popular tagline for many Quality Manager’s email signature – “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking”. I’d like to add to that quote and say that “Quality and Food Safety means doing it right when no one is looking”. A robust and compliant food safety management program is vital to the success of a food company, and the idea of ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply is incumbent upon all of us in the food industry. Ultimately, the choice on how to manage your company’s food safety program is up to you.

George Howlett

About the author

George Howlett is the CEO of Safefood 360° and one of Europe’s leading food safety experts. Before establishing Safefood 360° he worked at some of Ireland’s most prominent companies and brings the expertise with him. George also lectures in the MSc for Food Safety Management in the Dublin Institute of Technology.

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