May 21, 2020
USDA, FDA could force potato processors to stay open

Two U.S. federal government agencies have reached an agreement where produce processors would be forced to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, like meat processing facilities.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) released a Memorandum of Understanding May 19 stating that an executive order could be invoked under the Defense Production Act that would require fruit and vegetable processors to continue production.

In announcement was made through a statement attributed to Mindy Brashears, Ph.D., USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, and Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response.

“This is an important preparedness effort as we are approaching peak harvesting seasons, when many fruits and vegetables grown across the U.S. are sent to be frozen or canned. The MOU creates a process for the two agencies to make determinations about circumstances in which the USDA could exercise its authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) with regard to certain domestic food resource facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods, as well as to those that grow or harvest food that fall within the FDA’s jurisdiction.

“While the FDA will continue to work with state and local regulators in a collaborative manner, further action under the DPA may be taken, should it be needed, to ensure the continuity of our food supply. As needed, the FDA will work in consultation with state, local, tribal and territorial regulatory and public health partners; industry or commodity sector; and other relevant stakeholders (e.g. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to chart a path toward resuming and/or maintaining operations while keeping employees safe.

“We are extremely grateful to essential workers for everything they do every day to keep our pantries, refrigerators and freezers stocked. All of the food and agriculture sector — whether it is regulated by the USDA or FDA — are considered critical infrastructure, and it is vital for the public health that they continue to operate in accordance with guidelines from the CDC and OSHA regarding worker health and safety. As we work to get through the current challenge together, we remain committed to workers’ safety, as well as ensuring the availability of foods, and that our food remains among the safest in the world.”

The lack of foodservice demand because of COVID-19 restrictions has led to a backup in the potato supply chain. McCain Foods has laid off workers at Canada facilities, and Lamb Weston reportedly returned potatoes from the 2019 crop to farmers in the Pacific Northwest. A Lamb Weston facility in Pasco, Washington, closed temporarily in late March due to a positive COVID-19 test of an employee.






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