The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities, including fruit and vegetable processing, and protect the food supply chain as the COVID-19 pandemic response continues.
The MOU creates a process for 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, both agencies said in a statement.
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 the food supply chain.
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, Occupational Safety and 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. 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”, said Mindy Brashears, Ph.D., USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, and Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, in a joint statement.
On April 28, 2020, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Order 13917, Delegating Authority Under the Defense Production Act with Respect to the Food Supply Chain Resources During the National Emergency Caused by the Outbreak of COVID-19, delegating the powers of the President under the DPA to the Secretary of Agriculture to ensure continuity of operations for our nation’s food supply chain.
The Executive Order gave the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to utilize the DPA if needed to require the fulfillment of contracts at food processing facilities. The MOU makes clear that the FDA will work with stakeholders to monitor the food supply chain for food resources not under the USDA’s exclusive jurisdiction in order to prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities.
Monitoring and Securing Human and Animal Food Supply Chains 24/7
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.
Both agencies are in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores and they have issued guidance to ensure 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.
With respect to the safety of food across the U.S., both the 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.
Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, foodborne exposure is not known to be a route of transmission for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
With respect to foodborne pathogens, the CDC, FDA, and FSIS continue to work with state and local partners to investigate foodborne illness and outbreaks.