Meat packing plants were the initial focus of the executive order signed by President Donald Trump on April 28 delegating authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) with respect to the food supply chain. In the Administration’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to help prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities, including fruit and vegetable processing.
In a joint statement from Dr. Mindy Brashears, USDA undersecretary for food safety, and Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, the agency leaders said this is an important preparedness effort as the peak harvesting seasons approach, when many fruits and vegetables grown across the U.S. are sent to be frozen or canned. The MOU creates a process for the two agencies to make determinations about circumstances in which USDA could exercise its authority under the DPA with regard to certain domestic food resource facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold foods as well as to those that grow or harvest food that fall within FDA’s jurisdiction.
The joint statement noted that while FDA will continue to work with state and local regulators in a collaborative manner, further action under the DPA may be taken, should it be needed, to ensure the continuity of the food supply. As needed, FDA will work in consultation with state, local, tribal and territorial regulatory and public health partners, industries or commodity sectors and other relevant stakeholders (e.g., the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration) to chart a path toward resuming and/or maintaining operations while keeping employees safe.
“We are extremely grateful to essential workers for everything they do every day to keep our pantries, refrigerators and freezers stocked,” the FDA and USDA officials noted. “All of the food and agriculture sector -- whether it is regulated by the USDA or FDA -- are considered critical infrastructure, and it is vital for the public health that they continue to operate in accordance with guidelines from the CDC and OSHA regarding worker health and safety. As we work to get through the current challenge together, we remain committed to workers’ safety, as well as ensuring the availability of foods, and that our food remains among the safest in the world,” Brashears and Yiannas stated.
With respect to the safety of food across the U.S., USDA and FDA continue to use their respective authorities, including conducting inspections, as appropriate. The agencies also continue to monitor foods for hazards, work with industry on any potential or reported issues in their facilities and conduct food recalls when appropriate. This applies to both domestically produced food and food that is imported from other countries.
“Throughout the pandemic, the USDA and FDA have been closely monitoring the food supply chain for shortages, in collaboration with industry and our federal and state partners. We are in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores,” FDA and USDA said.
“We are working with our federal partners who have the authority and expertise over worker safety to develop information on protecting worker health. We are also working with other federal partners to assist the food and agriculture industry in addressing shortages of personal protective equipment, cloth face coverings, disinfectants and sanitation supplies,” the statement added.
The agencies noted that guidances were issued to provide regulatory flexibility to safely reroute food that typically would be bought in bulk by food facilities and restaurants, like eggs and flour, directly to consumers.