NEW ORLEANS, La. - How safe is your seafood? FDA food inspectors won't be able to tell you. They're furloughed until the government shutdown ends.
“It makes me nervous about not having those inspections, in having two small kids and knowing what we're giving to them is safe,” said local mother Jennifer Baur.
“It makes me think twice about buying something,” said local Suzy Calamari.
Louisiana is one of the nation's top seafood producers. Local seafood processors say FDA inspectors usually pay them at least one unannounced visit a year.
“It's very strenuous,” said Wayne Hess, manager at American Seafoods, Inc. “They come for a week and they go through all the guidelines.”
Hess said, even while federal inspections are on hold, his company plans to uphold its standards.
And the state’s monthly inspections will continue as usual.
“The states pick up a fair amount of food inspection for things like seafood. But it's not like having the full force here,” said LuAnn White, Ph. D., toxicologist at Tulane School of Public Health.
Most of the food on your grocery store shelves hasn't been inspected by the federal government, even when there’s not a shutdown, because there are so few inspectors, said White. But those inspectors make a big difference.
“The threat that there could be an inspection keeps a lot of people honest,” said White. “It's like when you're not watching your children, they're more likely to do something wrong than when you're sitting there with your eyes on them.”
Experts say seafood imports will see the greatest impact because, without inspectors, those products will likely sit in refrigerated cargo containers at the dock.
“Long term it could have a great effect and we're having a shortage of shrimp right now, so people who are bringing imported shrimp in, I think that's just going to make the situation incredibly worse,” said Hess.
For now, experts say, don't panic. They advise you to smell your seafood before cooking it to make sure it’s fresh, and keep it well refrigerated in your home.
The Centers for Disease Control groups that monitor food borne illness are also furloughed, but the state is continuing to monitor that as well.