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A MESSAGE FROM TOM STENZEL ON CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19

Mar 23, 2020

March 23, 2020; 7:30 pm EDT/4:30 pm PDT

Dear Produce Industry Member:

Thank you for your continued amazing effort to keep the food supply chain moving to feed Americans. As I’ve said many times these past few days to government, the media and even our own members, it’s unfathomable to be shifting as much as 40-50% of the food supply from the foodservice channel to retail outlets. And that’s in the midst of a crisis that is telling people to stay home, shutting institutions that facilitate our supply chain, and ignoring that the very companies essential to putting food on the table are bleeding cash needed to stay in business.

Dealing with those challenges remains our #1 priority. The following steps are being taken today:

  • United Fresh’s Dr. Jennifer McEntire joined with several colleagues in our food coalition to develop a guide for food chain employers on what to do when an employee or contract worker tests positive for COVID-19. We anticipate that the Food Industry Recommended Protocol When Employee/Customer Tests Positive for COVID-19 will be posted soon on the FDA website, so please refer all employers, local and state officials to this source.
  • Our coalition had another conference call with the White House this afternoon, again emphasizing the need for the federal government to communicate that food industry employees and contractors are part of the nation’s essential health infrastructure, and should not be restricted from doing their work. Download the DHS Guidance on Food as Part of Essential Infrastructure. Our employees can be confused by conflicting local messaging about “stay-at-home” orders, when they want to be working to keep the supply chain moving.
  • We continue to urge FDA to communicate out their guidance that food or food packaging does NOT transmit the coronavirus. There is misleading information about this in the media and even in some government statements. Please make sure to share the most recent FDA Food-Safety/COVID-19 Guidance on this issue when you see false information. Consumers should NOT be advised to wash fruits and vegetables with soap.
  • The Senate continues to be in stalemate, unable to agree on an essential package of support for workers, employers, the medical community and even research on new vaccines. Use our Grassroots Action Network alert to send your Senators a strong message to Pass a Support Bill today!
  • We’ve worked with members of the House of Representatives to coordinate this letter to USDA signed by 27 members of Congressurging specific support for the recovery and stability plan we submitted last week. Our proposal covers immediate steps USDA can take to help facilitate supply chain movement, as well as financial support that will be needed to deal with the liquidity crisis stemming from the shutdown of the restaurant sector. Cash already paid for meals at restaurants is now stuck at that level, with foodservice distributors receiving little to no payments, and thus growers not getting paid down the supply chain. 
  • As our industry continues to transition our foodservice supply chain into retail, we’re announcing another partnership tonight with the National Grocers Association, which represents America’s independent grocery sector. We’re now working with NGA to link produce foodservice distributors to their member grocers who need store-door-deliveries and other support to keep their shelves stocked.

In closing, I’ll share that the United Fresh Executive Committee has just concluded a wide-ranging conference call in which they monitored progress we’re all making and suggested new avenues to serve the industry. One thing specifically – they asked for all of you to continuing sharing in our LinkedIn Group where you have supply chain needs or capacity resources. We understand that retail is coping with mammoth changes, limited distribution and receiving capacity, SKU rationalization, etc. But we want to do all we can to keep the vast bounty of fresh produce items available to consumers. There are companies out there willing to deliver to the store and help in any way, whether with the fastest-moving items or other products that so many consumers enjoy. 

As always, remember to check our Coronavirus/COVID-19 webpage, as we update resources there throughout the day. 

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