As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the lives of people around the world, agencies and organizations in the United States are providing information to keep their stakeholders informed.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will host a stakeholder call Wednesday, March 18, at 3:45 p.m. ET to discuss food safety and food supply questions related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
FDA will provide an overview of current activities, respond to stakeholders’ concerns identified in recent days and highlight important FDA resources in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner of the Office of Food Policy and Response; Michael Rogers, assistant commissioner for human and animal food operations, Office of Regulatory Affairs; and Dr. Susan Mayne, director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, will provide remarks on this topic.
Registration for the stakeholder call is not necessary. The call will be recorded and posted here.
Those who would like to participate in the call are asked to call in by 3:40 p.m. Call-in information: 888-989-8141, passcode: 3001967.
For questions about the stakeholder call, contact Janesia Robbs at [email protected]
The following stories provide information from some other national organizations related to the food industry but does not include all:
Food Safety Summit plans new date for 2020 event
BNP Media, organizers of the Food Safety Summit, announced March 17 that in response to the serious outbreak of coronavirus, it has postponed the May summit to Oct. 19-22, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. The 22nd Annual Food Safety Summit event was scheduled to take place May 4-7.
“The safety and the well-being of everyone who attends the summit is paramount and with this unprecedented situation unfolding, we have a responsibility to our customers, our guests and our colleagues to provide a safe place for our exhibitors, attendees and speakers to interact and communicate face-to-face,” said Scott Wolters, chief events officer, BNP Media. “We have a large number of attendees and exhibitors who committed to participate for the May event and look forward to a successful gathering from Oct. 19-22, in Rosemont, Ilinois. Please visit our website here for the new and updated schedule which will be live in a few weeks.”
BNP Media will continue to monitor the recommendations of the U.S and state public health guidelines as they develop with regard to the Covid-19 virus and provide further updates here.
Exhibitors and attendees will be contacted directly from BNP staff about details of the move. For exhibitors who have questions about the new dates and space contact Kim Hansen at [email protected] with any questions. For attendees who have questions, contact the registration team at [email protected]
“Our thoughts are with all of those currently impacted by coronavirus. The Food Safety Summit annual conference and expo is an important event for the food safety industry, and on behalf of the Educational Advisory Board, we are pleased BNP Media is able to reschedule,” added Gary Ades, chair of the summit educational advisory board and president of G&L Consulting. “We look forward to bringing our world class education and speaking faculty to Rosemont, Illinois, in October and share the latest information on effective food safety solutions.”
United Fresh Produce Association updates members
Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association, recently updated members on how the coronavirus is affecting its members.
“With the rapid changes occurring throughout our society, I will plan to send you regular updates as the situation warrants,” Stenzel said. “Last night, I provided the links to our United Fresh Coronavirus/COVID-19 webpage resources, including a segmented consumer-facing page where you can direct consumer and/or employee questions, and a second industry-facing page where we outline information critical to keeping our supply chain moving. We are updating these pages on a near-constant basis with information that may be helpful so be sure to check back frequently.”
Stenzel said United Fresh also has created new LinkedIn Group to encourage industry members to share specific needs they might have; capacity or resources that they might have available to assist others; questions for peers who might be able to share advice; etc.
“The group has attracted hundreds of users thus far, and I hope this is helpful to you in sharing questions and additional information of value,” he said.
Stenzel said United Fresh now is working with partner associations in the retail and foodservice sectors to help connect companies that may have needs for produce and/or refrigerated transportation and availability. Foodservice distributors with excess inventory due to restaurants shutting down are asked to post that information on the LinkedIn site. He also recommends members to directly contact retailers in their region to offer their services.
“We are trying to restock stores with great fresh produce as fast as we can,” he said.
Stenzel said United Fresh also is working with the White House and Congress on what financial relief may be forthcoming for sectors that have been devastated by this crisis.
“For now, we urge all companies to carefully track your losses and keep strong financial records,” he said. “For temporary assistance, we were on a call with Small Business Administration officials today in which details about an SBA disaster loan program were communicated. Loans of up to $2 million are available to small businesses, agricultural cooperatives, not-for-profit organizations, etc. in areas that have been declared disaster areas due to the coronavirus. You can see these specific areas listed on the SBA website, but they anticipate that all governors will soon be asking for those declarations. If your state has not yet received an SBA determination of disaster status, please contact your governor’s office and urge them to proceed. SBA is approving disaster requests as quickly as they can.”
Loans are intended to provide working capital to assist companies in meeting payment obligations such as payroll, debt obligations, etc. and is not a replacement for lost profit. Loans to for-profit companies have an interest rate of 3.75 percent, and loans to not-for-profit corporations carry a rate of 2.75 percent. All loans can have payment terms of up to 30 years, and all payments are deferred for the first year (interest does accrue however). All applications will be handled online. Visit sba.gov/disaster to learn more about this program or to apply for a loan.
Due to the shutting down of consulates in Mexico and cross-border travel, Stenzel said there has been a disruption in the processing of H2A guest workers returning to ag labor in the U.S.
“Thanks to some quick work by the White House and USDA, Secretary Sonny Perdue was able to get some special waivers that is helping accelerate that process. There is more work to be done, but this was a good step,” he said.
One of the most frequent questions of the day has been how growers and food establishments are to be treated if a local jurisdiction shuts down movement, Stenzel said. “The White House, USDA and FDA have made it clear that all food workers and businesses are part of the essential public health infrastructure and must be allowed to work to keep the supply chain moving,” Stenzel said. “And that includes the need to feed workers, allow outside contractors such as sanitation companies to clean facilities, etc. If you find local officials blocking your work to feed America, please let us know.
“Last, I want to send another word of thanks to all of you and your teams on the front lines to keep America and the world fed. Secretary Perdue issued an excellent video today, which properly recognizes the heroes who continue to bring food to the rest of us.”
NGA applauds administration’s coordination with grocery industry
National Grocers Association (NGA) President and CEO Greg Ferrara released the following statement March 15 after participating in a call with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary Sonny Perdue and other White House officials on the administration’s plans to address the COVID-19 outbreak:
“NGA applauds President Trump, Vice President Pence and administration officials for taking the time to speak to the food industry regarding the impact of the ongoing public health crisis and providing an update on the national response. I appreciated the opportunity to share with President Trump the important work that NGA’s nearly 9,000 members, and their close to 1 million team members, are doing to support and feed their communities during this challenging time. America has the most efficient and effective supply chain in the world and stores continue to be restocked consistently.
“While local, independent grocers are currently experiencing an unprecedented demand in store traffic and for product and goods, we continue to work closely with the President and our federal, state and local officials nationwide to ensure the resilience of both the food supply chain and our local economies.
“Our industry has faced emergencies before from hurricanes to earthquakes, and fires to floods. Grocers are experienced and prepared to continue serving their communities and employees as our members do each and every day. Our nation’s food supply and supply chain are very strong, well stocked and will continue to work at the highest capacity to supply stores.”
FMI stands with Trump administration to keep stores open, stocked
FMI–The Food Industry Association participated on a White House call March 15 with the nation’s food retailers, wholesalers and suppliers of the food and consumer products they sell. FMI and its members offered to stand ready with the President of the United States and his Administration to ensure the viability of the supply chain and the availability of safe, affordable food and consumer products for our customers.
Following the call, FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin issued a statement: “We want to ensure that all Americans know the government is working closely with all stakeholders across the food and consumer products supply chain to ensure that stores can stay open and stocked with the products consumers need through this emergency.
“We stand with the President, the Vice President and the Administration, as we work, serve and feed the nation. We are resilient; our industry is working 24-hours-a-day to replenish and restock while ensuring the cleanliness of our stores and facilities. We are seeking to be sensitive to the needs of all our customers and partners, including our WIC and SNAP shoppers and the food banks our stores support. This fortitude is strengthened by our strong public-private partnerships with government agencies to ensure our supply chain remains resilient, nimble and effective.
“I am grateful for the leadership demonstrated by FMI’s member companies and the commitment of their dedicated workforce along with all food industry participants and stakeholders during this national emergency.
“We appreciate and agree with the Vice President’s comments commending this industry as the ‘trusted voices’ in your communities, large and small.”
CBA urges flexibility for truck drivers during national emergency
The Consumer Brands Association on March 14 issued the following statement from Tom Madrecki, VP, supply chain and logistics, regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service relief for truck drivers:
“The Consumer Brands Association would like to thank the administration for lifting the hours of service (HOS) restrictions on emergency relief truck drivers during this state of emergency. In meetings with senior White House officials, Consumer Brands strongly advocated that the HOS limits be altered so that drivers may deliver high-demand products to Americans where and when they are needed most.
“While the current HOS relief only applies to drivers delivering direct aid and emergency response equipment, we believe the HOS restrictions should be modified for truck drivers delivering essential consumer products as well. Americans rely on our industry for products critical to preventing further contamination and to slowing this pandemic. As we work together to fight the coronavirus, ensuring Americans have access to cleaning supplies, personal care items, over-the-counter medicines and staple food and beverage products is essential. Improving and protecting their access to those critical goods depends on our drivers being allowed to have a temporary easing of restrictions while still ensuring that they operate safely and efficiently.
“We urge the administration to increase HOS flexibility for all drivers and keep our products moving to the Americans who need them more than ever as we face an unprecedented health crisis.”