Foodborne illness investigations have slowed down significantly and food recalls have plummeted to their lowest levels in years because of disruptions in the nation’s food safety system caused by the novel coronavirus. According to a USA Today news report, the pandemic has shaken the system at every level – from the federal agencies that are tasked with stopping contaminated food before it leaves farms and factories to state health departments that test sick individuals for foodborne illnesses such as E. coli.
Drops in Inspections and Recalls
Food safety advocates say Americans are now more at risk for food poisoning because these systems are being strained. There are a number of different safeguards that have been built into the food safety system. But, one by one, COVID-19 seems to be knocking those pieces out. In March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would postpone in-person inspections of the nation’s food factories, canneries, and poultry farms.
As a result, the number of FDA inspections dropped from an average of more than 900 a month to just eight in April. FDA citations issued for unsafe conditions also plummeted from hundreds each month to nearly zero in April. The number of product recalls has also fallen. The number of recalls dropped from 173 in February to 105 in March to 70 in April. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recalls dropped from an average of more than 10 a month to an unprecedented zero in March and just two in April.
State health departments also appear to be cracking under the weight of COVID-19. They are struggling to keep up with the typical foodborne illness overload, which could be decreasing anyway as fewer Americans seek treatment for stomach ailments, choosing instead to stay home instead of seeing their doctor, USA Today reports.
Protecting Yourself and Your Rights
Despite these drops in inspections and recalls, we know that dangerous food product are still out there. Through May 7, the Center for Disease Control solved two outbreaks – a mushroom outbreak that sickened three dozen people and killed four nationwide and a clover sprouts outbreak that sickened 51, primarily in Utah.
If you or a loved one has been sickened by contaminated food, it is still important that you get prompt medical attention and care. Contact your local public health agency to report the illness. Isolate and preserve the suspect food so it can be tested in a private lab for pathogens. Contact an experienced California food poisoning lawyer who will help ensure that you receive maximum compensation for your losses.