Foodservice

Food Supply Chain Remains Strong: FDA

Administration will forgo on-site supplier verification audits during coronavirus outbreak
Photograph: Shutterstock

UPDATE: The FDA will perform “mission critical” inspections and postpone routine inspections during the coronavirus outbreak, the administration said on a March 18 call with stakeholders to discuss food safety and food supply questions related to the coronavirus.

Critical inspections include inspections in support of a foodborne outbreak or a Class I recall, for example, said Michael Rogers, assistant commissioner for human and animal food operations for the Office of Regulatory Affairs. The agency will do its best to accomplish these inspections, provided they do not put anyone at risk, he said.

Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner at the Office of Food Policy and Response, emphasized there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19; therefore, he does not anticipate food products will need to be withdrawn from the market if a person who works in the food industry has COVID-19. If an employee does contract the virus, the priority is to stop the person-to-person spread of the virus.

Food and agriculture are considered critical infrastructure at a time when some local governments are enacting shelter-in-place regulations, said Susan Mayne, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Food manufacturers facing challenges operating in their state are advised to contact FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center.

“Everyone working in food is a critical part of this nation's infrastructure, and we are grateful for what they’re doing to feed people across the country at this critical time,” Yiannas said.

The FDA is also answering frequently asked questions on its website.

WASHINGTON — Although consumers are experiencing temporary food shortages at local grocery and retail stores, the U.S. food supply chain remains unharmed amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the U.S. and there are currently no widespread disruptions reported in the supply chain,” the administration said in a statement.

  • Click here to read CSP’s live COVID-19 updates and recommendations for the convenience-store industry.

As a precautionary measure, the FDA will temporarily forgo on-site supplier verification audits for U.S. foodservice establishments during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), foodservice operators are required to conduct supplier verification activities based on the hazard analysis in their Food Safety Plan or Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP); however, travel restrictions—and social distancing—associated with the coronavirus have made these audits nonviable, the administration said. The FDA has required operators to use off-site supplier verification methods instead such as sampling and testing or reviews of food safety records.

"The policy released today will help to minimize disruptions so that the food industry can meet the demand while also continuing to conduct supplier verification activities that are designed to ensure food safety and following government travel restrictions and advisories,” said Scott Hahn, commissioner of the FDA. “While we are confident that [foodservice] stores will remain open and supply will continue to meet demand nationwide, we ask all Americans to only purchase enough food and essentials for the week ahead."

Onsite supplier verification audits will resume within a “reasonable period of time after it becomes practicable to do so,” the FDA said. The administration said it will provide timely notice before withdrawing this new policy.

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