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A Message from Tom Stenzel on Coronavirus/COVID-19

Mar 19, 2020

March 19, 2020; 6:45 pm EDT/3:45 pm PDT

Dear produce industry member,

Thank you for all you and your teams are doing to keep the food supply moving. As I’ve visited grocery stores in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, I am amazed at the job our industry is doing from farm to store.

I’ll be quick with tonight’s update on new developments. As always, please check our Coronavirus/COVID-19 webpage frequently, as we update that as we go. A new section today lists the many projects advanced to help your businesses. And, I’m really pleased to see so many of you using our LinkedIn Group to share questions and resources with our peers. It’s gratifying that we’ll pass more than 1,000 group members tonight, a pretty big new network in the past 72 hours.

Here are a few things you need to know from today:

  • Our coalition of food industry trade associations here achieved one of our immediate priorities with the Department of Homeland Security’s official announcement this afternoon that workers throughout the food supply chain are part of the country’s essential critical infrastructure. We have been fighting multiple state and local shelter-in-place rules that have disrupted workers and operations.  With this statement we should be able to drive greater national consistency.

  • Another important step was today’s partnership announced between USDA and the Department of Labor to work together to facilitate movement of current H2A guest workers from their current contracts as they expire into new contracts within the country. This was a major push by all of us in agriculture.

  • In calls with CDC, FDA and DHS officials today, we also pushed for strong government guidance for food supply chain organizations on how to respond if a worker tests positive for the virus. We cannot allow a single positive case to shut down an entire facility. FDA has clearly stated that there is no need for a food recall if a worker tests positive, and there is no evidence of virus transmission by food or packaging materials. We expect these messages to be amplified by government in the coming days to allay some of the misguided fears and actions.

  • Along those lines, we learned this morning that the Port of Houston was shut down when a longshoreman tested positive, and would not reopen until Monday. We worked with our importers into Houston, the cold chain sector, other food sectors, Texas retailers, and USDA, and I’m pleased to share that the Port is reopening tonight. This port is a major receiver for citrus, bananas, apples and many other fruits.

  • While many sectors of our industry have been set back by this crisis, the foodservice sector and foodservice distributors in particular have been devastated by the shutdown of the restaurant and hospitality industry. United Fresh teamed with the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) to urge the President and Congress to recognize the devastation to the foodservice distribution sector and elevate immediate financial relief for the sector. We’ve gathered financial impact from our produce distributors across the country and continue to use that data to drive home the impact with Congressional leaders working on financial support.

  • Concurrently, we’ve teamed with the Food Marketing Institute and IFDA to connect foodservice distributors now with extra capacity with retailers across the country with needs. This crisis won’t be over tomorrow, and we need to build new bridges across our supply chains.

I’ll end by once again saying thank you to you and all of our front line teams. It’s important that we all continue to recognize the commitment of our workers from farms through every step in the chain to our consumers. They have kids out of school; they are nervous about their own health; but they are coming to work and keeping the food supply moving. 

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