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FDA and USDA issue COVID-19 guidance and steps for US food sector

Posted: 18 March 2020 | | No comments yet

The FDA has introduced a temporary policy for FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) supplier verification onsite audit requirements, and the USDA has issued a statement to stakeholders with information about its support for food businesses.

FDA and USDA issue COVID-19 guidance and steps for US food sector

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken steps to help prevent disruptions in the food supply chain by issuing a temporary policy for FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) supplier verification onsite audit requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency.

“While our grocery stores are facing unprecedented demand, we are working with industry to minimise disruptions in the supply chain due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions,” said FDA Commissioner, Stephen M. Hahn, M.D.

“The policy will help to minimise 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. While we are confident that 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.”

Three of the regulations created to implement FSMA – the Preventive Controls for Human Food (PC Human Food) rule, Preventive Controls for Animal Food (PC Animal Food) rule, and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) rule – require receiving facilities and importers to conduct supplier verification activities based on the hazard analysis conducted as part of their written Food Safety Plan or FSVP. When receiving facilities and importers develop their Food Safety Plans or FSVP, they sometimes determine onsite audits to be the most appropriate supplier verification activity.

However, the travel restrictions and advisories associated with the novel COVID-19 may make some audits temporarily impractical to conduct, according to the FDA. Therefore, the policy states that the agency will temporarily not enforce FSMA supplier verification onsite audit requirements if other appropriate supplier verification methods are used instead.

Other supplier verification methods, such as sampling and testing or a review of food safety records, would be designed to provide sufficient assurance that hazards have been significantly minimised or prevented during the period of onsite audit delay. 

The FDA anticipates that receiving facilities and FSVP importers will resume onsite audits within a reasonable period of time after it becomes practicable to do so, and update their food safety plans and FSVPs accordingly.

The FDA intends to provide timely notice before withdrawing this policy.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that field personnel will be working closely with establishment management and state and local health authorities to handle situations as they arise in communities. “As always, communication between industry and government will be key”, Dr. Mindy Brashears, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, and Greg Ibach, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, wrote in a statementto stakeholders.

“In this time of much uncertainty, we know that many of you have questions about how the department will continue to ensure that grading and inspection personnel are available. We have all seen how consumers have reacted to the evolving COVID-19 situation and how important access to food is to a sense of safety and wellbeing. It is more important than ever that we assure the American public that government and industry will take all steps necessary to ensure continued access to safe and wholesome USDA-inspected products,” it continued.

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