WASHINGTON—On March 18, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hosted a call with the food industry community to communicate the current COVID-19 situation and its impact on the U.S. food supply chain.
Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner of the Office of Food Policy and Response, emphasized that the U.S. food supply remains safe, and there are no food shortages. “Food manufacturing is not disrupted,” he said.
As people visit their neighborhood grocery or convenience store and see that some products are out of stock, that’s not to be confused with a shortage of supply. “This is a demand issue, not a supply issue,” Heather Garlich, vice president of media and public relations at FMI, told Politico. “The supply chain isn’t broken. The warehouses are pushing out as much inventory as possible in a 24-hour period.”
And because food suppliers are part of the critical infrastructure sector, any supply issues should be reported immediately to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has activated the National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC) as part of the Interagency Crisis Action Task Force. NBEOC is FEMA’s virtual clearing house for two-way information sharing between public and private-sector stakeholders to help people before, during and after disasters. The NBEOC Dashboard is active 24/7.
In respect to food safety, Yiannas said that there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus, noting that the virus causes respiratory illness and is not known to be transmitted from food. Also, the FDA does not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled from market if a person in a food facility is diagnosed with COVID-19, “as there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging,” per the FDA’s website.
Additionally, the FDA notes that facilities are required to control any risks that might be associated with workers who are ill regardless of the type of virus or bacteria: “For example, facilities are required to maintain clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces.”
Also on March 18, FDA Commissioner on Food and Drugs Stephen M. Hahn stated that the agency has temporarily postponed all domestic routine surveillance facility inspections, which are facility inspections the FDA traditionally conducts every few years based on a risk analysis.
Dr. Hanh said that the FDA is “evaluating additional ways to conduct our inspectional work that would not jeopardize public safety and protecting both the firms and the FDA staff. This can include, among other things, evaluating records in lieu of conducting an on-site inspection on an interim basis when travel is not permissible, when appropriate.”
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.