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FDA releases updated COVID-19 food safety guidelines

FDA releases updated COVID-19 food safety guidelines

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is providing food retailers and manufacturers with more flexibility.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently released a list of resources regarding food safety and COVID-19. The document addresses several production and retail challenges within the food supply that are relevant to natural products businesses during the pandemic. 

The new guidelines affect restaurants, food producers and distributors

Included in the list is a document titled “Guidance for Industry: Temporary Policy Regarding Nutrition Labeling of Certain Packaged Food During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” which temporarily loosens some FDA guidelines. While many of the new guidelines are for restaurants, they also provide food manufacturers and distributors with much-needed flexibility regarding nutrition labeling of packaged foods. 

For example, businesses that have excess inventory labeled for restaurant use may now sell packaged food without a Nutrition Facts label, provided that the food does not boast nutrition claims and does contain other required information on the label, such as: an ingredient statement, net quantity of contents, allergen information required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act and the name and place of business of the food manufacturer, packer or distributor.

Additionally, if retail packaging is unavailable, manufacturers may continue to produce and sell food labeled for use in restaurants through other channels until packaging becomes available. Although these temporary guidelines went into effect immediately, they remain subject to public comment according to the FDA’s good guidance practices. 

The resource list also includes questions and answers relevant to the natural products industry, some of which we’ve highlighted below.

Tips for natural products producers and suppliers navigating COVID-19:

  • Workers in the Food and Agriculture sector—agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail, foodservice and allied industries—are considered essential critical infrastructure workers. 
  • Despite some local supply issues, there are currently no nationwide shortages of food. The current challenges are a result of unprecedented demand, not a lack of capacity to produce or deliver.
  • COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, not a foodborne one. There is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with its transmission.
  • While it is not believed to be the main method of transmission, it is possible to contract COVID-19 by touching surfaces where the coronavirus lives and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Therefore, it is critical for food manufacturers, distributors and retail stores to amplify cleaning procedures and brush up on food safety procedures during this time.   
  • Hand sanitizers are in short supply, but the FDA warns against using quaternary ammonium (even at 200 ppm concentration) on human skin. These products may only be used to sanitize surfaces
  • The Centers for Disease Control suggests that companies and individuals employ social distancing—maintaining a distance of six feet from other people—within food preparation facilities and retail operations. Realistically, this is not always possible, but strict personal hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing should be enforced to reduce community spread. 
  • Food production facilities are required to maintain clean and sanitized environments every day, not just during a pandemic. Therefore, the FDA does not anticipate that any food products will be recalled or withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19. 
  • If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, employers should inform other workers of the possibility that they were exposed but maintain confidentiality. Consult with local and state health authorities to learn additional protocols. 
  • Businesses should coordinate with state and local officials to stay abreast of the latest developments, as the intensity of the COVID-19 outbreak is greatly influenced by geographic location. 
  • The FDA will work with manufacturers for the remainder of 2020 regarding using updated Nutrition and Supplement Facts labels. The agency also announced it will not focus on enforcement actions during this time.
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