FDA Relaxes Some Inspection Rules During COVID-19 Pandemic

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced March 18 that it is postponing temporarily all routine inspections of food and feed facilities for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting inspection activities to “mission critical” cases.

David Fairfield, senior vice president of feed at the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), explained some of the changes the FDA is making as a result of the pandemic during a webinar April 2 sponsored by the association and Grain Journal magazine.

According to Fairfield, the FDA made this decision in order to protect its workers and the workers at the businesses being inspected.

FDA will work with public health authorities to determine what inspections would be “mission critical.” But even in these cases, FDA temporarily will relax its rule of arriving for inspections unannounced and instead call ahead.

Individual inspectors have the discretion on what to do about businesses that have implemented “no visitor” policies.

State governments that perform inspections on behalf of the FDA are bound by these temporary rules, as well, Fairfield said. However, they may be able to conduct inspections under state regulations..

In another area, FDA announced it would suspend temporarily all domestic and foreign supplier audit inspections under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

In some countries, these inspections may not even be possible depending on the terms of national lockdown restrictions.

When Infection Strikes

Fairfield said that for now, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread by human food or animal feed or their packaging.

However, he offered these suggestions in case an employee shows symptoms of or tests positive for the virus:

  • Continue to operate as a business.
  • Inform employees of their possible exposure.
  • Contact local public health authorities and follow their protocols.
  • Sick employees should follow Centers for Disease Control recommendations including self-quarantine.
  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize facilities in order to protect other workers.
  • Currently, no recalls or withdrawals of product from the marketplace are required.

Webinar Presentation Slides

  • Randy Gordon - Designation of Food and Agriculture as Critical Infrastructure and What That Means
  • David Fairfield - FDA Inspection Flexibility During COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Bobby Frederick - Current and Future Financial Relief Enacted or Planned by Congress
  • Mary Hitchcock / Charlie Delacruz - Continued Functioning of NGFA Arbitration System
  • Jess McCluer - Federal Grain Inspection Service Continuity of Operations Plan
  • Max Fisher - Waivers From Truck Driving Hours of Service Regulations and Harmonizing State Weight Limits