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Food Supply Chain

Q: Will there be food shortages?

A: There are no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock. Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the U.S. and there are currently no wide-spread disruptions reported in the supply chain.

USDA and the Food and Drug Administration are closely monitoring the food supply chain for any shortages in collaboration with industry and our federal and state partners. We are in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores.

Q: What is USDA doing to ensure access to food?

A: USDA is monitoring the situation closely in collaboration with our federal and state partners. FNS is ready to assist in the government-wide effort to ensure all Americans have access to food in times of need. In the event of an emergency or disaster situation, Food and Nutrition Service programs are just one part of a much larger government-wide coordinated response. All of our programs, including SNAP, WIC, and the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, have flexibilities and contingencies built-in to allow us to respond to on-the-ground realities and take action as directed by Congress.

Learn more about available FNS flexibilities to help ensure food access during the pandemic response, please visit: www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic.

Q: Is USDA issuing guidance on how farmers markets should operate or if they are considered essential in places where shelter in place orders are in effect?

A: USDA has not issued any guidance regarding farmers markets. Such decisions are made by localities based on the latest information from the CDC and local and state health agencies.

Q: Will USDA food purchases continue?

A: The AMS Commodity Procurement Program (CPP) will remain fully operational and plans to continue to work with Federal, state and local partners to purchase and distribute food to participants in domestic and international nutrition assistance programs. However, many schools and other institutions are closed across the country, and there may be other disruptions at warehouses, ports, and distribution centers. This may result in requests to delay or divert deliveries or provide other flexibilities. We ask that vendors extend as much flexibility as possible and be assured that CPP Contracting Officers will utilize all available contractual flexibilities and contingencies to continue to serve program recipients effectively during this time. To avoid delivery issues and challenges, all contracted vendors should:

  1. Make and confirm delivery appointments prior to shipping; and
  2. Communicate with CPP Contract Specialists or Contracting Officers for any deviation to contractual requirements.

Q: Will COVID-19 affect availability or prices of food products in the U.S.?

A: USDA expects the U.S. food market to remain well-supplied and food prices to remain stable, or even decline, in the near future (see blog by chief economist Rob Johansson)

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Q: Are those working in the agricultural sector considered Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers?

A: Yes. As we all know, agriculture is vital to our country, and will play a vital role during the COVID-19 response. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency lists Food and Agricultural Workers as being among the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers for the COVID-19 response. It also lists the agricultural sector among 16 critical infrastructure sectors. In addition to providing safe and nutritious food for American families, the agricultural sector also accounts for roughly one-fifth of our nation’s economy. To learn more about the important role the food and agricultural sector plays in the COVID-19 response, please visit www.cisa.gov/food-and-agriculture-sector.

Q: Will H2A workers be impacted by President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order?

A: President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order will not impact temporary visa workers in the food supply chain, including H2A visa workers.

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Q: Can I become sick with coronavirus (COVID-19) from food?

A: We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.

Q: Are meat products compromised by the Coronavirus?

A: We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.

Q: Is FSIS taking any extra precautions when receiving food products from nations that have confirmed cases of COVID-19?

A: We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.

Q: Is food imported to the United States from China and other countries affected by COVID-19 at risk of spreading COVID-19?

A: Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.

Q: Can I get sick with COVID-19 from touching food, the food packaging, or food contact surfaces, if the coronavirus was present on it?

A: Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Q: If an inspector or worker in a meat processing plant became infected with coronavirus, would the meat produced at that facility be safe to eat?

A: Public health and food safety experts do not have any evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. FSIS in-plant personnel who are ill with COVID-19 or any other illness will be excluded from work activities that could create unsanitary conditions (coughing or sneezing on product). COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. More information about how the virus spread is available from the CDC (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html).

Q: Where should the food industry go for guidance about business operations?

A: Food facilities, like other work establishments, need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a particular area. We encourage coordination with local health officials for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 (PDF, 591 KB) that includes information on how a COVID-19 outbreak could affect workplaces and steps all employers can take (PDF, 1.1 MB) to reduce workers' risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). On April 26, 2020, the CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued interim guidance specific to the meat and poultry processing industry in order to facilitate ongoing operations and support the food supply, while also mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Q: Is FSIS requesting that plants report to FSIS if employees become ill with COVID-19? Will the Agency reciprocate?

A: In the event of a diagnosed COVID-19 illness, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will follow, and is encouraging establishments to follow, the recommendations of local public health authorities regarding notification of potential contacts. FSIS will keep the lines of communication open so we can address the evolving situation.

Q: Have any of FSIS’ audits of foreign countries’ (or foreign countries auditing the U.S.’) food safety systems been delayed due to COVID-19?

A: As USDA’s public health agency, FSIS is committed to ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of all imported meat, poultry, and processed egg products for American families. For the safety of our auditors, FSIS does not provide the dates when the auditors are scheduled to conduct in-country equivalence audits in a foreign country. FSIS has delayed both U.S. and foreign country audits in accordance with the State Department’s guidance. FSIS continues to monitor the situation and will evaluate the feasibility of its upcoming audits as the situation evolves, including reviewing State Department guidance on foreign travel.

Q: How will FSIS-regulated establishments handle cleanup if cases have been identified at the facility?

A: Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, meaning they are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product. All FSIS-regulated establishments are required to have Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (Sanitation SOP), which are written procedures that an establishment develops and implements to prevent direct contamination or adulteration of product. It is the establishment’s responsibility to implement the procedures as written in the Sanitation SOPs. The establishment must maintain daily records sufficient to document the implementation and monitoring of the Sanitation SOPs and any corrective action taken. FSIS verifies that regulated establishments adhere to the procedures in place. The same sanitary procedures that establishments are already following to protect food safety will also help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a list of disinfectants that have qualified under EPA's emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Q: Is FSIS requesting/requiring their employees to report if they have been to a Level 3 country (Level 1 or 2)?

A: FSIS employees will be following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) and State Department’s recommendations for travel.

Q: Can a county health department or state government shut down an FSIS-regulated establishment?

A: Yes, and FSIS will follow state and local health department decisions.

Q: Is FSIS prepared to handle an increased rate of absenteeism of food inspectors due to COVID-19?

A: Safeguarding and ensuring the U.S. supply chain remains strong is our top priority. Our front-line supervisors and district managers are working closely with state and local health authorities to handle situations as they arise. FSIS is prepared to be operationally nimble and to use all administrative means and flexibilities available to protect the health and safety of employees based on local public health recommendations. Planning for absenteeism is a part of normal FSIS operations. FSIS has a plan and authority to address staffing considerations and is prepared to act accordingly.

Q: Is FSIS encouraging inspectors to stay home if they exhibit flu-like symptoms?

A: FSIS always encourages employees who are sick to stay home. Employees exhibiting symptoms are also encouraged to follow recommendations from local, state and Federal public health regarding reporting of illness, consulting with healthcare providers and self-quarantining as necessary.

Q: How do I maintain social distancing in my food production/processing facility and food retail establishment where employees typically work within close distances?

A: To prevent spread of COVID-19, CDC is recommending individuals employ social distancing or maintaining approximately 6 feet from others, when possible. In food production/processing facilities and retail food establishments, an evaluation should be made to identify and implement operational changes that increase employee separation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Labor (DOL) have issued guidance specific to the meat and poultry processing industry in order to facilitate ongoing operations and support the food supply, while also mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19.

The risk of an employee transmitting COVID-19 to another is dependent on distance between employees, the duration of the exposure, and the effectiveness of employee hygiene practices and sanitation. USDA strongly recommends establishments utilize the recommendations highlighted in the guidance document where practical, recognizing that how they are implemented may differ given the unique circumstances of establishments and processing facilities nationwide.

These guidelines were developed recognizing that these establishments and their operations are critical (PDF, 796 KB) to the security of the nation's food supply. Steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should remain in place throughout the pandemic and to the extent that companies must reduce or alter capacity, split shifts, or add additional processing days to implement the CDC and DOL recommendations. FSIS remains committed to ensuring that food safety regulations are met.

Q: A worker in my food production/processing facility/farm has tested positive for COVID-19. What do I need to do to continue operations while protecting my other employees?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Labor (DOL) have issued guidance specific to the meat and poultry processing industry in order to facilitate ongoing operations and support the food supply, while also mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19.

USDA strongly recommends establishments utilize the recommendations highlighted in the guidance document where practical, recognizing that how they are implemented may differ given the unique circumstances of establishments and processing facilities nationwide. In the event of a closure, establishments should work with the state departments of agriculture and state and local health authorities, in coordination with CDC, to utilize the guidance and develop a plan to safely resume operations as soon as possible.

These guidelines were developed recognizing that these establishments and their operations are critical (PDF, 796 KB) to the security of the nation’s food supply. Steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should remain in place throughout the pandemic and to the extent that companies must reduce or alter capacity, split shifts, or add additional processing days to implement the CDC and DOL recommendations. FSIS remains committed to ensuring that food safety regulations are met.

Q: Should employees in food production settings wear face coverings to prevent exposure to COVID-19?

A: On Friday, April 3rd, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated recommendation on the use of cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

CDC is recommending the voluntary use of cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Per the CDC, the purpose of wearing a face covering is to help prevent the transmission of coronavirus from individuals who may be infected, but are not showing symptoms. More information on the use of face coverings in meat and poultry establishments can be found in the CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) interim guidance for meat and poultry processing workers and employers (issued April 26, 2020).

Additional information on how to make and wear cloth face coverings is available on the CDC website. CDC recommends that face coverings should:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

NOTE: The cloth face coverings recommended by CDC are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Q: When I bring my groceries home, how should I handle them safely during this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

A: There is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry, as an extra precaution.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you can also clean and sanitize your kitchen counters using a commercially available disinfectant product or make you own sanitizing solution with 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) unscented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. Do NOT use this solution or other disinfecting products on food.

It is important to follow food safety practices when handling groceries to prevent foodborne illness:

  • Unpack groceries as soon as you get home. Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables—like berries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms—within 2 hours of purchasing.
  • Before eating, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush. For canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.
  • Always keep in mind the basic 4 food safety steps when preparing food — Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

For more information on safe handling of groceries, visit the FDA's website here: www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/shopping-food-during-covid-19-pandemic-information-consumers.

Q: How can I protect myself from coronavirus (COVID-19) if I have groceries or food delivered?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19 when you have groceries or food delivered.

  • First, limit in-person contact if possible.
  • Pay online or on the phone when you order (if possible).
  • Accept deliveries without in-person contact whenever possible.
  • Ask for deliveries to be left in a safe spot outside your house (such as your front porch or lobby), with no person-to-person interaction. Otherwise, stay at least 6 feet away from the delivery person.
  • After receiving your delivery, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

For more information on how to protect yourself from COVID-19 during food deliveries, visit CDC's webpage for advice on essential errands: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/essential-goods-services.html.

Q: Are meat, poultry, and processed egg products inspection services and the issuance of export documentation being discontinued by the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak?

A: No. Meat, poultry, and processed egg inspection services, including export certification services, continue as normal. Planning for absenteeism is a part of normal FSIS operations and as such, FSIS is closely monitoring and tracking employee absenteeism to plan for and minimize impacts to operations. FSIS is working to prioritize inspection at establishments based on local conditions and resources available.

Q: Are food products produced in the United States and exported a risk for the spread of COVID-19?

A: No. There is no evidence to suggest that food produced in the United States can transmit COVID-19. Additionally, currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.

Q: In some areas of meat and poultry processing facilities, social distancing at 6ft of distance may not be feasible in order to maintain continued operation at the maximum capacity possible. In these areas, are other controls, based on the hierarchy of controls outlined in the CDC/OSHA guidance, e.g. PPE, acceptable in order to maintain safe operations at the maximum capacity possible?

A: Employers should use the hierarchy of controls to control hazards and protect workers as outlined in the CDC/OSHA guidance, including by first trying to eliminate hazards from the workplace, then implementing engineering controls followed by administrative controls and safe work practices, and finally using personal protective equipment. When engineering controls, such as physical barriers, are not feasible in a particular workplace or for a certain operation, other types of controls, including PPE, may be considered in accordance with the hierarchy.

Q: Want to see what the FDA is doing?

A: The FDA also has a list of frequently asked questions such as:

  • Is the U.S. food supply safe?
  • Will there be food shortages?
  • What measures are FDA (and CDC, state partners, etc.) taking to ensure that we remain able to address foodborne illness outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic?

See more on FDA's Frequently Asked Questions webpage.

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Q: What does the Executive Order direct the Department of Agriculture to do?

A: Executive Order 13917 signed by President Trump on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, delegated to the Secretary of Agriculture the powers of the President under the Defense Production Act to take all appropriate action to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations consistent with the guidance for their operations jointly issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regarding worker health and safety.

Q: What should meat and poultry plants that are currently closed do?

A: Effective immediately, meat and poultry processing plants should utilize the guidanceissued on Sunday, April 26, 2020, by the CDC and OSHA specific to the meat and poultry processing industry to implement practices and protocols for staying operational or resuming operations while safeguarding the health of the workers and the community.

Q: What role will USDA play in implementing the President’s executive order?

A: If necessary, the Secretary may issue orders under the Executive Order and the Defense Production Act requiring meat and poultry establishments to fulfill their contracts.

Q: Will USDA issue orders with allocations of production on a company-by-company basis or will there, instead, be an industry-wide approach?

A: The issuance of priority orders under the Defense Production Act is an option under active consideration. The USDA does not plan to issue an order to a facility unless necessary. USDA encourages establishments and state and local officials to follow the CDC/OSHA guidance specific to the meat and poultry processing sector to resume or maintain continuity of operations.

Q: Will this be done in the form of an agency rule(s) or guidance? By when?

A: If necessary, USDA will issue an order to a company or an establishment requiring them to fulfill their contracts. Rulemaking is not necessary for USDA to carry out the delegated authorities under the Defense Production Act.

Q: Is there a national testing plan specific to meat and poultry processing plants?

A: Testing strategy and protocol for critical infrastructure, including meat, poultry, and processed egg product facilities, should be developed by each State, based on ongoing guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CDC.

Q: What kind of resources can or will be made available to meatpacking facilities, to protect plant employees, given the new Executive Order?

A: USDA will continue to work with the White House Task Force, other Federal partners, including HHS, CDC, FEMA, and the Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force, and state, local, and tribal officials to ensure that resource needs are met to keep employees safe and continue operations consistent with the CDC/OSHA guidance.

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