ARTICLE UPDATED: 05/12/2020
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created a Q&A addressing food safety concerns relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak. (For the full Q&A, visit the FDA’s website.)
Below are excerpted questions that can help producers understand more about:
- Steps to take if a worker tests positive for COVID-19
- Any need to recall products/close facilities if a worker tests positive for COVID-19
- Food-service facility operations and surface sanitation
One of my workers has tested positive for COVID-19. What do I need to do to ensure the foods I produce are safe?
There is currently no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 by food. However, if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, you should inform fellow employees of their potential exposure in your workplace while maintaining confidentiality.
Any employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 should follow CDC guidelines, and you should consult with the local health department for additional guidance.
Although your primary responsibility is appropriate action to protect anyone who may have come in contact with the ill employee, the FDA advises redoubled cleaning and sanitation efforts to further control risks per the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food. Also: The Office of Indiana State Chemist website offers a searchable list of EPA-registered disinfectant products for COVID-19. Consult this site to determine if disinfectants are safe and recommended for use in this environment.
Do I need to recall food produced during the time that the employee was ill and working?
The FDA does not anticipate a need to recall food products or withdraw them from the market due to COVID-19 — as there is currently no evidence to support its transmission via food or food packaging.
However, facilities are required to control any risk associated with employees who are ill regardless of the virus or bacteria in question (e.g., maintaining clean, sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces).
Should I close my facility if a worker has tested positive for COVID-19? If so, for how long?
Food facilities must follow local and state health department protocols, which may vary based on community spread of COVID-19 in a given area. These decisions will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission — not food safety.
What steps should I take to clean my facility/equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
FDA-regulated food manufacturers are required to follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs), and many have food safety plans that include hazard analysis and risk-based preventive control. These also include requirements for maintaining clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces. (See the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food.)
Also: The Office of Indiana State Chemist website offers a searchable list of EPA-registered disinfectant products for COVID-19. Consult this site to determine if disinfectants are safe and recommended for use in food manufacturing areas or food establishments.
You may want to consider a more frequent cleaning schedule, and the FDA encourages coordination with local health officials to guide appropriate responses with timely, accurate information.
Do I need to ask other workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to self-quarantine for 14 days?
You need to follow guidelines set by state and local authorities. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, you should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure but maintain confidentiality. Any employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 should follow CDC guidelines, and you should consult with the local health department for additional guidance.
Will the FDA and its partner agencies still address foodborne illness outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Again, to reiterate: Foodborne exposure to COVID-19 is not known to be a route of transmission. With respect to foodborne pathogens, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service continue to work with state and local partners — with all usual operation, activity and response plans in place at this time.