FDA and USDA sign MOU to ensure flow of US food supply chain during pandemic
The agreement is said to be a particularly important preparedness effort as the nation approaches peak harvesting seasons, when many fruits and vegetables grown across the US are sent to be frozen or canned.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities, including fruit and vegetable processing, to ensure the American food supply chain can continue to flow without interruption.
The MOU has been designed so that the two agencies to make determinations about circumstances in which the USDA could exercise its authority under the Defense Production Act (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 the FDA’s jurisdiction.
In a statement from Mindy Brashears, PhD, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, and Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, it was explained that: “While the 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 our food supply. As needed, the FDA will work in consultation with state, local, tribal and territorial regulatory and public health partners; industry or commodity sector; and other relevant stakeholders (e.g. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA]) 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. 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.”
The USDA and FDA also highlighted that they have been working to allow frontline workers in food facilities and retailers to continue to work safely, ensuring facilities and farms are implementing practices consistent with federal worker safety guidelines to keep employees safe and continue operations. “We are also working with other federal partners to assist the food and agriculture industry in addressing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), cloth face coverings, disinfectants and sanitation supplies,” the statement read.
The USDA and FDA have also been
- Monitoring the food supply chain for shortages in collaboration with industry and federal and state partners
- Staying in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores
- Issuing updated guidelines to ensure regulatory flexibility to safely reroute bulk foods directly to consumers.