Recently, large food processing plants have been shut down because employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. And as the nation battles the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration continues to assure consumers that there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging. Therefore, the FDA doesn’t anticipate a food recall or a withdrawal of food products from the market caused by a person who works on a farm or in a food facility who tests positive for COVID-19.
This point is well taken but is not looking at the big picture — especially when it comes to food safety and food recall events. The fact is, in an effort to limit the exposure of FDA investigators, state inspectors, and farm and facility workers to the virus, routine in-person surveillance inspections of farms and food facilities in the U.S. and facilities that export foods to the U.S. have come to a temporary halt. As a result, the food chain is becoming increasingly more vulnerable as contamination risks may go undetected.
With Fewer Inspections, how is the FDA Addressing Food Safety?
According to the FDA, mission-critical inspections are still being conducted when needed, along with a limited number of remote inspections involving the electronic submission of records by importers covered by the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs’ requirements. Moreover, importers of food from foreign suppliers whose on-site food facility or farm inspections have been postponed because of COVID-19, will begin to take priority once the pandemic begins to ease.
But even as the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with other local, state and federal governments, are on the lookout to protect consumers from foods that may have been contaminated, the system is operating on a significantly limited basis. And while the argument is that the FDA has proactively shifted its response to the pandemic to prevention, including steps that must be taken to ensure the safety of foods and how they are produced, packaged and transported, it isn’t addressing the immediate problem.
Recall Events May Increase
In light of current issues regarding the postponing of inspections for growers, processors and producers of food products, the industry may begin to experience and an uptick in food recalls. For brokers with clients in the food industry, it is important to educate insureds on the very real possibility of a food recall during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We understand that you and your clients might have questions regarding food safety and food recalls during the COVID-19 pandemic. At Worldwide Facilities, we are committed to staying informed and providing the resources that our retail brokers need during this challenging time.