While many consumers report being unable to find the pantry staples they seek at their local grocery stores, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emphasized that there are no nationwide food shortages. However, retailers may be experiencing low inventory of certain foods because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn this week urged consumers to limit their purchases to “enough food and essentials for the week ahead.”
“Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the United States, and there are currently no widespread disruptions reported in the supply chain,” the FDA said in a statement. “The FDA, in collaboration with industry and our federal and state partners, is closely monitoring the food supply chain for any shortages,” the federal agency noted. “We are in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores.”
On March 17, the FDA took action to help prevent supply chain disruptions by issuing a temporary policy for FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) supplier verification onsite audit requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency.
“While our grocery stores are facing unprecedented demand, we are working with industry to minimize disruptions in the supply chain due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions,” said Hahn. “The policy released today will help to minimize disruptions so that the food industry can meet the demand while also continuing to conduct supplier verification activities that are designed to ensure food safety and following government travel restrictions and advisories.”
Three of the regulations created to implement FSMA—the Preventive Controls for Human Food (PC Human Food) rule, Preventive Controls for Animal Food (PC Animal Food) rule, and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) rule—require receiving facilities and importers to conduct supplier verification activities based on the hazard analysis conducted as part of their written Food Safety Plan or FSVP, the agency explained. When receiving facilities and importers develop their Food Safety Plans or FSVP, they sometimes determine onsite audits to be the most appropriate supplier verification activity.
However, the travel restrictions and advisories associated with the novel coronavirus may make some audits temporarily impractical to conduct. Therefore, the temporary policy states that the agency will not enforce FSMA supplier verification onsite audit requirements in the short term if other appropriate supplier verification methods are used instead. Other supplier verification methods, such as sampling and testing or a review of food safety records, would be designed to provide sufficient assurance that hazards have been significantly minimized or prevented during the period of onsite audit delay.