U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) are seeking information from leadership at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the agency’s efforts to maintain food safety and address food supply disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although COVID-19 is not known to spread through food, the threat of harmful foodborne pathogens spreading does not stop. The FDA has already begun two investigations this year into foodborne pathogen outbreaks that have resulted in 87 illnesses and four deaths. However, following the FDA’s suspension of routine inspections in March, the average number of inspections per month dropped from 900 to just eight in April.
“Consumer protection advocates are concerned this reduction makes an already weak inspection system even weaker, while other experts believe the ultimate impact will be limited as the food companies themselves are the primary testers, not FDA, in assessing the safety of its product,” Pallone and DeGette wrote to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. “We, too, are concerned about the impact the suspension of inspections will have on the safety of our nation’s food supply and want to know more about how FDA is preparing for the inspections to resume.”
The lawmakers also expressed concern over reports of the pandemic’s impact on food supply chains.
“The pandemic has also severely disrupted food supply chains. We are disturbed by reports of farms destroying millions of pounds of foods they can no longer sell due to closures of schools and businesses, while, at the same time, millions of Americans who have lost their jobs are facing food insecurity,” they continued. “This is alarming and we request information about how FDA is monitoring and addressing supply chain issues.”
Pallone and DeGette asked for Hahn to clarify what information or guidelines FDA will use to determine when to restart routine in-person surveillance of domestic food manufacturing facilities and inspections of foreign food facilities or imports. The legislators are want to know how FDA is monitoring supply chain disruptions that result in food loss and waste and working with food producers to mitigate such losses.