May 20, 2020
As United Fresh’s food safety expert, I want to provide a perspective on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between USDA and FDA, “to help prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities, including fruit and vegetable processing”. FDA regulates the safety of most foods including fresh produce. The Department of Agriculture serves many roles, including regulating the safety of meat and poultry products. You’ll remember a few weeks ago when President Trump signed an Executive Order to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to reopen meat and poultry operations. It was all over the news!
This MOU allows FDA to work with USDA to intervene, under the DPA, if there is a risk of supply chain disruption for FDA-regulated foods, not just meat and poultry. Is this a blessing or a curse? No one wants the attention that meat has experienced. I know many of you have undertaken extreme efforts to protect your employees, which should limit the possibility of a facility shut down. That said, when it comes to disease transmission within communities and facilities, things are more complex than they may initially appear. In the event that a company is “doing everything right”, the DPA does afford protection against liability, another issue our government relations team has been pressing forward on. Collaboration between USDA and FDA is a good thing, but I hope we never need to call upon this MOU.
A basic tenet of food safety is to focus on prevention, and the same holds true during this pandemic. That’s why we’ve been developing guidance with other trade associations, which you can find at www.feedingus.org. We’re expecting CDC guidance specific to harvesting, soon. And we’re in constant communication with officials at USDA and FDA.
Working on pandemic-related issues can be depressing, and I’m thankful for the “bright spots” that keep me energized and motivated, namely the Produce Safety Immersion Program, sponsored by Renaissance Food Group at the Gold level and Ecolab as a Silver sponsor. I’m so proud of the initiative and camaraderie shown by these 14 individuals who are still early in their produce safety careers. These are the future leaders who will keep us focused on prevention, and be prepared to respond swiftly if crises occur.
Another ray of sunshine today has been the recognition of the 2020 Women in Produce honoree, Sarah Frey. From one woman to another, congratulations Sarah! And if you’d like to congratulate her yourself, join me on June 16 during United Fresh LIVE! for the official celebration where Sarah will share her story.
Have a nice evening.