FDA Issues Food Guidance Regarding COVID-19

March 19, 2020 Advisory

Panic buying at grocery stores has led consumers and the food and beverage industry to question the stability of the food supply chain in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken action to provide reassurance regarding the food supply chain’s stability, regulatory relief and guidance to food industries grappling with the pandemic.

  • Currently No Evidence of Foodborne Exposure. FDA reiterated that there is currently no evidence of foodborne exposure of COVID-19.
  • Halted Domestic Inspections. On top of its earlier suspension of foreign facility inspections, FDA has temporarily postponed all domestic routine surveillance facility inspections.
  • Temporary Onsite Audits Policy. FDA has issued guidance permitting facilities that routinely conduct onsite audits as part of the supplier verification protocols under their Food Safety Plans or Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) to temporarily halt these activities during the outbreak.
  • Recall Guidance. FDA has issued an FAQ which states that FDA does not anticipate requiring food recalls should an employee in a food facility test positive for COVID-19.
  • Food Facility Cleaning. FDA has issued a reminder that food manufacturers must follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) and their food safety plans when cleaning food facilities.

Given FDA’s guidance, the food and beverage industry can rely on current regulatory flexibility to help meet critical grocery store demand. The industry should, however, be aware that this flexibility does not relieve it from critical FDA law, regulations and guidance. Companies within the industry should consider these best practices in light of the FDA COVID-19 guidance:

  • Though there is currently no evidence COVID-19 can be transmitted via food, continue practicing the four key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook and chill—to prevent foodborne illness.
  • FDA may not be conducting domestic inspections, but the industry is still obligated to comply with CGMPs.
  • If an employee at your food facility tests positive for COVID-19, you should inform your employees of their possible exposure while maintaining strict confidentiality regarding the sick employee’s identity.
  • Remember that food facilities must use EPA-registered “sanitizer” products when cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Consider using EPA-registered disinfectant products specific to COVID-19.
  • Always check the label of any cleaning product to determine whether it is safe and recommended for use in food manufacturing.

FDA’s guidance is likely to change day-to-day as the agency works to protect the food chain. Armstrong Teasdale’s Agribusiness and Food and Regulatory lawyers will continue to monitor and provide updates regarding these developments. For additional information, please visit Armstrong Teasdale's COVID-19 Resource Center.

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