The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday, March 18, that it will be scaling back its inspections to include only those considered "mission critical." This includes Class I Recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks, but each inspection will be considered on a case-by-case basis in accordance with local social distancing measures.
In a departure from tradition, the administration will be pre-announcing the vast majority of its inspections in the forseeable future.
Its aim is to reduce FDA employees' risk of infection as much as possible without greatly interfering with the inspection process, but executives noted that regulators and industry members need to work with each other during this time to uphold the integrity of the supply chain.
The administration is not at this time requesting manufacturers to issue recalls or place food products on hold should an employee test positive for COVID-19, and stated on the call that there is no evidence the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through either food or food packaging. However, manufacturers should be prepared to notify fellow workers and follow the usual guidelines to prevent the spread of viruses or bacteria.
Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis also took the opportunity to underscore that the empty shelves frustrating consumers and retailers alike stem from excessive demand as opposed to a lack of supply on the part of producers.
Yiannis noted that FDA is working alongside the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and federal officials to address quarantine conditions and travel restrictions that may prevent food workers from getting to and from their jobs.
To view frequently asked questions related to food safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit FDA's Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 webpage.