Sky Chadde is the Midwest Center’s Gannett Agricultural Data Fellow. He can be reached at sky.chadde@investigatemidwest.org

This post is embargoed for republication until March 31, 2020.


Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration announced it was suspending inspections, partly over concerns about its employees' "health and well-being.

For-cause inspections would only proceed if they were "mission-critical," according to an FDA statement. "We will continue to respond to natural disasters, outbreaks and other public health emergencies involving FDA-regulated products," the statement reads.

Another government inspection service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, will continue to operate as usual, however.

"Meat, poultry, and processed egg inspection services continue as normal," the USDA said in a statement.

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, these inspectors had tough jobs, as our investigation from late last year showed.

They face heavy workloads and burnout: one inspector, 8 months pregnant, was required to inspect twice the amount of facilities as normal because of staff shortages, the investigation found. 

We asked the USDA how they planned to keep its inspectors safe during the outbreak, and here's what they had to say, in full:

“We are working closely with federal, state and local authorities to protect the health and well-being of our personnel and will determine their personal level of risk based on their community and travel history. Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, meaning they are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant products. The same sanitary procedures that establishments are already required to follow every day to prevent foodborne pathogens will also help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.”