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What Is United Fresh Doing to Ensure Americans Have Access to Fresh Produce?

Feb 18, 2021

Communicate the continued safety of the fresh produce supply chain

On February 18, Acting USDA Secretary Kevin Shea and Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. released a statement in response to reports of COVID-19 transmission through food and food packaging. The statement underscores the fact that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The USDA and FDA continue to be confident in the safety of the food available to American consumers and exported to international customers.

Since Feb 2, United Fresh has provided members with resources and information demonstrating that fresh produce is not a significant vector for the novel coronavirus. Nevertheless, United Fresh supported immediate research funding so that we could have additional research related to COVID-19 and fresh produce. We immediately urged FDA and CDC to explicitly address this, and the agencies responded with clear guidance and continued statements reinforcing that food is not a vehicle for the virus. We created a consumer-facing webpage, in addition, to proactively pushing these messages to the media.

Support for USDA Secretary Nominee Tom Vilsack

On January 20, United Fresh and allied organizations delivered a letter to The Honorable Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman and The Honorable John Boozman, Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, respectfully urging confirmation of the Honorable Thomas Vilsack to serve as Secretary of Agriculture.

View Letter

What is United Fresh doing to ensure front-line produce workers are protected from COVID-19?

On January 12, United Fresh joined allied organizations to deliver a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, strongly encouraging USDA to protect workers against COVID-19, as part of the H.R. 133 the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 passed in December.

View Letter

On January 11, United Fresh joined allied organizations to deliver a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, offering recommendations to USDA and state departments of agriculture in terms of utilizing and prioritizing the supplemental funding from the $100 million in funds through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

View Letter

What is United Fresh doing to make sure front-line produce workers have priority access to a vaccine?

On February 23, United Fresh joined a diversity of associations in urging the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives to direct FEMA and the National Guard to explore the possibility of state-based mobile COVID-19 vaccination pilots.

View Letter

On February 9, Rep. Jim Costa, D-CA., the 2nd highest-ranking Dem. on the House Agriculture Committee, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-CA., led a group of California House members this week to send a letter to CA Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to encourage the state to mount “a robust educational campaign, including linguistically accessible and culturally appropriate resources,” to ensure that farm workers “feel secure in seeking out and accepting the vaccine.”

View Letter

Shortly after the pandemic began, United Fresh began urging Congress and the Administration to give priority access to essential workers in the produce industry, and continues to advocate for our industry, who continues to work on the front lines to ensure Americans retain access to produce.

On December 14, United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel penned a letter to the industry, summarizing the push United Fresh and others in the food industry have been making since June for our essential food workers to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.

View Letter

On December 11, United Fresh joined allied food and beverage associations to deliver a letter on the Vaccine Sub-Prioritization Criteria to the CDC-ACIP and FDA. The essence of this letter was also summarized as a public comment to CDC a few days later. Similar letters were also sent to state governors and state health and ag officials.

View Letter

On November 11, United Fresh and allied food and agricultural organizations urged both President Trump and President-elect Biden to provide priority access to COVID-19 vaccines as they become available. In a letter to the President and in discussions with the Biden transition team, the groups emphasized the critical role our workers in food and agriculture have played by continuing operations and ensuring Americans have access to safe and nutritious foods.

View Letter

On July 21, 2020, United Fresh joined with the International Foodservice Distributors Association and National Fisheries Institute in supporting the introduction of the Providing Liquidity for Uncollectible Sales (PLUS Act). This bill, introduced by Representatives Darin LaHood (IL) and Jimmy Panetta (CA), provides for a tax credit to offset uncollectable debt incurred as part of COVID-19 shutdowns. We’ve been working with these partners to find ways to support our members who collectively have experienced more than $12 billion in uncollected debts as restaurants and foodservice establishments shut down and are unable to pay their distributors. To view the bill text, click here.

Additionally, United Fresh supports the FRNT LINE Act, introduced on July 21, 2020, by Senator Joni Ernst (IA). This bill will provide tax relief to essential workers, including those who work in the food and agriculture sector. Federal income taxes would be suspended for essential workers up to an annual income cap and would provide suspension of federal payroll taxes for essential workers who earn up to $50,000 annually. For a one-pager on the bill click here, and to see the full bill text, click here.

On June 24, 2020, United Fresh joined over a dozen other associations urging the President to help protect workers in the food supply chain by giving them priority access to a vaccine, once it is available.

View Letter

What is United Fresh doing to ensure Americans have access to fresh produce and to help United Fresh member businesses?

These are the proactive steps we’re taking to ensure Americans have access to fresh produce and to help United Fresh member businesses.

On June 3, 2020, United Fresh sent a letter to Vice President Pence asking for support for food distributors in the fresh produce sector while the economy begins to reopen. To view the letter, click below.

View Letter

On May 12, 2020, Representatives Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15) and Dwight Evans (PA-03) introduced the Assistance and Gratitude for Coronavirus Heroes in Agribusiness who are Invaluable to the Nation, or the AG CHAIN Act. The bill is an extension of the previously introduced GROCER Act. The bill would provide a federal tax holiday and a payroll tax exemption for all essential employees in the food and agriculture industry defined by recent Department of Homeland Security guidance. 

United Fresh joined with nearly 30 fellow organizations in writing a letter of support for the AG CHAIN Act to Congress.

View Letter

On May 12, 2020, United Fresh joined a large and diverse group of signatories urging Congress to consider liability protection for companies that need to remain open as part of our nation’s critical infrastructure, provided they take appropriate steps to protect workers.

View Letter

April 23, 2020, In response to efforts led by United Fresh and other ag organizations, to eliminate payment limits for specialty crops before the final Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) details are announced, both the House and Senate issued letters to the President outlining their concerns.

House Letter to the President

Senate Letter to the President

April 17, 2020, the President and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced some $2.7 billion in financial support targeted to the fruit and vegetable industry in response to the overwhelming losses from the COVID-19 emergency. That support is divided with $2.1 billion allocated for direct payment to growers, and $100 million per month for the next six months in produce purchases. Read our coalition press release: Western Growers, National Potato Council, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association

United Fresh and a number of industry partners, on April 7, 2020, presented to the U.S. Department of Agriculture a comprehensive Produce Market Stabilization Program to immediately support critical financial needs in the produce supply chain. In addition, 108 members of Congress have sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue urging USDA to support this immediate relief.

Letter From Congress to USDA
Letter from Industry to USDA

On behalf of our 1,500 member companies that make up the full fresh produce supply chain at the forefront of the fresh and fresh-cut produce industry, we have requested urgent action by Congress to mitigate the challenges facing the sectors that have been impacted most severely as a result of the National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Specifically, we requested to establish a $5 billion fund [as March 23] that would be utilized to address claims filed by food service distributors who have outstanding expenditures to grower-shippers. Based on submission and verification of these claims by food service distributors the fund would allow USDA to reimburse grower-shippers directly based on these approved claims. 
Letter to Congress
Letter to USDA

Letter to State Governors

Chairman Collin Peterson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, wrote to Secretary Sonny Perdue advocating for the agriculture industry. In his letter, Chairman Peterson urged the Administration to maximize the purchase of agricultural commodities, including fruits and vegetables, to support struggling farmers during the coronavirus pandemic. View Chairman Peterson’s letter to Secretary Perdue sent on April 14, 2020.


Food is a critical infrastructure and businesses in the fresh produce supply chain must maintain operations.

Let your state and local authorities and representatives know that the fresh produce industry is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Americans need to eat, so companies in the fresh produce supply chain must remain operational. At the same time PPE to protect workers is scarce and the alignment with FDA and CDC recommendations varies by state/county. You can use (and adapt) this fact sheet to communicate this situation.

We appreciate the bold steps Congress has taken thus far to respond to the coronavirus crisis in the United States. On April 3, United Fresh joined 16 fellow associations in writing, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy, to request that they target future aid to the food industry dedicated and talented men and women on the front lines of this epidemic. View the letter.

United Fresh successfully urged the Department of Homeland Security to include a breadth of the fresh produce and supporting industries in the Guidance on Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, first issued on March 19, 2020. Read document here that includes the list of Food and Agriculture workers.

United Fresh tailored a food and beverage coalition resource that companies can provide to workers as attestation that, as a member of the fresh produce industry,  they are authorized to work during this crisis.

Download the food worker/ shipment certificate

If you are having trouble transporting food or with other major supply chain disruptions please contact FEMA’s national emergency business operations center at

United Fresh led the development of an FDA-recognized guidance document outlining steps to be taken if a food industry worker tests positive for COVID-19.

Ensure adequate labor is available to continue harvesting fresh produce. United Fresh appealed to the State Department outlining our concerns and the need for immediate flexibility for the H-2A program. Read our letter submitted March 18, 2020.

As a result of our efforts, a number of important steps have been taken related to our workforce. As of March 27, H-2A and H-2B workers will be allowed to enter the U.S. as members of the essential ag workforce.


Additional resources:


Keep fresh produce moving throughout the country. United Fresh immediately reached out to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to ensure that fresh produce delivery is among the essential services that will be required to continue under the COVID-19 crisis. As a result of our actions, FMCSA made the following announcement ensuring that food delivery will continue to grocery stores and retail establishments. Read the FMCSA Announcement.

Support the foodservice supply chain. In direct correspondence with the President, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader McConnell, United Fresh pushed for the creation of a recovery fund at the Department of Treasury, March 18, to provide economic relief for our members in the restaurant/ foodservice. In the short term, United Fresh has served as a matchmaker between fresh produce suppliers and retail buyers via our Produce Industry Coronavirus Resource Share Group. We also have led conversations with USDA (Food and Nutrition Service, and AMS) as well as Capitol Hill on options for addressing the decline in restaurant and school markets (tax credits for donations, additional USDA Foods purchases, flexibility in FFVP distribution, and more).

Feeding America’s children, even when schools are closed.

  1. In Schools – Many of the public schools that have closed around the country are still serving meals under the Summer Food Service provisions via grab-and-go and curbside meals. These meals are available to any child under the age of 18 and include federally-set meal components, including fruits and vegetables. Districts are doing a great job communicating these sites and services via their websites and social media. We recommend you connect directly with local school districts for more information on what is happening in your area. Here is the current list of USDA’s flexibilities granted to states and schools during the pandemic. A map of districts closed due to COVID-19 can be found here.
  2. WIC – The Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) has received emergency funding to cover the additional women who are expected to enroll as a result of job loss. Additionally, states are able to waive the “cashier” requirement where WIC must be redeemed in the presence of a cashier. Alternative models like delivery and online ordering are now options, at the discretion of the state. Nutrition and Federal Feeding Provisions in Families First Coronavirus Response Act

In a conference call on Tuesday, March 17, with USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, United Fresh encouraged them to reach out to food service distributors that may want to participate in the Food Purchase and Distribution Program as part of the Administration’s trade mitigation programs. Fresh produce commodities currently eligible for the program include citrus products, apples, strawberries, blueberries, apricots, plums/prunes, figs, sweetcorn, potatoes and onions.  To participate, you need to be an approved vendor under USDA vendor program. The new vendor registration process does take a while but AMS had dedicated staff who can walk potential vendors through our requirements. Visit USDA’s new vendor information on their  website

United Fresh joined business associations from across the country sending a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders to ensure federal resources are provided all businesses to address the critical challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Communicate the continued safety of the fresh produce supply chain. Since Feb 2, United Fresh has resourced members with the information demonstrating that fresh produce is not a significant vector for the novel coronavirus. Nevertheless, United Fresh supported immediate research funding so that we could have additional research related to COVID-19 and fresh produce. We immediately urged FDA and CDC to explicitly address this, and the agencies responded with clear guidance. We created a consumer-facing webpage in addition to proactively pushing these messages to the media (Bloomberg, Reuters, AP etc.)

Support prioritization of supplies needed to safely produce fresh produce and protect workers. United Fresh served as one of five “food industry representatives” to the FEMA Supply Chain Task Force food supply chain workgroup. Additionally United Fresh gathered needs from produce safety leaders, and submitted the compilation to the Food and Ag Sector Coordinating Council of the Department of Homeland Security so that the fresh produce industry has priority access to hand sanitizer, hand soap, and bulk sanitizers. At the request of USDA, we subsequently facilitated communication directly between the agency and members regarding specific PPE needs, and more recently USDA asked for vendor specific information. United Fresh is also working to ensure the industry has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and works as part of a newly formed multi-association Supply Chain Council.  

Updates from our President & CEO Tom Stenzel

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