A friend just forwarded me a report from the Department of Health and Human Services regarding contingency staffing plans during the federal government shutdown. He was able draw a sliver of positive news from the report.
The report states that more half of the HHS staff will be furloughed, from departments that are deemed to be less important, such as the department which funds the Senior Nutrition programs, Native American Nutrition and Supportive Services, Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, and Protection and Advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities. This is obviously not the positive news that he gleaned from the report; instead it brings into focus some of the good things the federal government does on behalf of its citizenry, the most vulnerable included.
If there were ever a department whose value to our general population’s vulnerabilities I questioned, it was the department that conducted random inspections of cheese importers. That is not to say that problems do not arise from time to time but with cheese those problems are scant compared to the problems with other foods. Previous to this week’s government meltdown, with already limited resources, I thought the FDA spent a little too much time and effort looking for something that was not really a problem, like a cheese mite on a Mimolette. Please!
By the way, no one has ever been hospitalized from the consumption of cheese mites.
If that was all those guys had to worry about then I want my tax dollars spent elsewhere, as on the other agencies cited above. Among the departments that will be furloughed the memo included this statement:
FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.
When I think of the random FDA inspections we have experienced over the years, I know that our cheeses have been evaluated, sometimes hundreds of pounds quarantined until well after their sell-by dates, then to be determined as “safe.” I recall one instance just a couple years ago when a shipment of high moisture cheese was held up nearly a month before it was released so that we could sell it. The cheese came back “clean” and safe for consumption. The cheese may have been safe when it was quarantined but by the time we were able to sell it, it was over-the-hill. I recall that the cheese was still edible but it was past its sell-by date, and the cheese looked like it had not enjoyed a pleasant sojourn during its examinations.
I got along well with every FDA inspector I ever met and I hope their furloughs are brief, but then again, maybe some prioritization of tasks may be in order.
- Max McCalman
Posted by Artisanal Cheese