There are multiple news reports being disseminated daily by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with updates on the coronavirus and its impact on the food industry. However, Food Safety News continues to be one of the most thorough resources for consolidating the myriad of data that is being reported by government sources to all segments of the food industry. Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at FDA is a noted authority and has issued pertinent information that I am consolidating here for your review.

A critical part of FDA’s mission is safeguarding the human and animal food supply, helping to ensure that our food is not contaminated at any point during its journey along the supply chain. COVID-19 is a new frontier for everyone as we all deal with the realities of a pandemic and the impact it is having on our lives, on our families, our communities, and our work. The FDA is committed to protecting the health of the American people, and to facing any challenges in food safety and access that arise during this public health emergency. Most important, FDA says that the U.S. food supply remains safe and there is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

For these reasons, FDA has said that they do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or withdrawn from the market for reasons related to the outbreak, even if a person who works in a human or animal food facility is confirmed to be positive for the COVID-19 virus.

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No Disruptions In The Supply Chain

Food production and manufacturing are dispersed throughout the U.S, and as has been reported, there are currently no widespread disruptions reported in the supply chain, at least at press time. Overall, retail supply chains remain strong, and the FDA is reporting that they are working with food manufacturers and grocery stores to closely monitor the human food supply chain for any shortages.

Protecting Workers

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FDA has an unwavering commitment to protecting the health of FDA, state, and local personnel on the front lines of food safety as well as the health of workers on farms and in human food facilities all over the nation who play critical roles in helping to feed Americans every day. FDA has taken steps to help reduce the risk of infection for FDA investigators and state inspectors in ways that won’t interrupt the process of how safe foods reach the market.

FDA has postponed routine surveillance inspections of domestic human and animal food facilities out of concern for the health and well-being of FDA investigators and state inspectors. FDA will continue to inspect “for cause” when a potential threat to public health is identified. FDA has also postponed most foreign inspections through the end of April because of restrictions on travel. Finally, the agency has also issued guidance on their intention to temporarily not enforce onsite audit requirements for supplier verification under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Regulations to Control Risks For Workers In Food Facilities

FDA cares about workers in human and animal food facilities – their risk of infection and problems they may have getting to and from work with quarantines in certain places. Retailers care too as evident by the placement of plexiglass shields at many store checkouts and in store pharmacies. Some protections reside in the FSMA requirements that human food facilities have food safety plans to control risks associated with workers who are ill, regardless of the type of virus or bacteria. There are also requirements for human food facilities to maintain clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces. Food-service workers also must continue to practice frequent hand washing and glove changes before and after preparing food.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform workers of their possible exposure while maintaining confidentiality. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance – ” What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)”. Employers should consult with their local health department for additional guidance.

If You Have Questions

The FDA’s website, fda.gov/coronavirus, has a wealth of information on the most recent developments in areas that include testing and therapeutics, plus links to related information provided by other government agencies.

FDA has also posted a new set of frequently asked questions at fda.gov/food and updates the information frequently. Also, you can submit questions directly to FDA via fda.gov/FCIC and they will respond as quickly as possible.

If your food facilities are experiencing issues regarding the supply chain, delivery of goods, or business continuity, you are urged to contact the FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center at NBEOC@fema.dhs.gov. They are available 24/7.

FDA Partnerships

The FDA is also working with their many partners to address reported challenges associated with quarantines and travel restrictions that may be impeding food workers’ ability to continue to work and transport product. This includes working with local, state and federal officials, and industry, to ensure that food workers can get to and from their jobs in communities where curfews and shelter-in-place directives are enforced.

The FDA wants all of us involved in the food industry, from farm to fork, to know that the agency stands ready to assist throughout the coronavirus crisis to ensure that food is safe and available to all Americans. They have offered a lot of resources so if you have any concerns whatsoever, use one of the websites I’ve mentioned to get the help you need.

Barry Scher is associated with the public policy firm of Policy-Solutions LLC and may be reached at bscher@policy-solutions.net.