Food & Drink

FDA halts ‘routine’ surveillance checks of facilities during the coronavirus pandemic

While neither food nor drug production will halt during the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA announced this week it’s “temporarily postponed” food and drug facilities’ regularly scheduled inspections.

A statement from Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs, said it was done for the welfare of “our staff and those who conduct inspections for the agency under contract at the state level and because of industry concerns about visitors ...”

This covers “domestic routine surveillance” inspections. Inspections for-cause “will be evaluated and proceed if mission-critical.”

A day before the FDA’s Wednesday announcement, the USDA said its Food Safety and Inspection Service inspections of meat, poultry and eggs would continue “as normal,” but FSIS was “working to prioritize inspection at establishments based on local conditions and resources available.”

Outbreaks, such as the current 17-state listeria outbreak with four deaths and the E. coli outbreak linked to raw sprouts, will still draw a response, Hahn said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency might start substituting on-site inspections with evaluating records “when appropriate.”

“I want to assure the American public that we have full confidence in the safety and quality of the products we all use every day and that the FDA will continue to leverage all available authorities to continue to ensure the integrity of the products we regulate,” Hahn said. “In fact, inspections are just one part of a robust and multi-pronged approach to overseeing the safety and quality of FDA-regulated products, however inspections are not what cause quality to happen.

“Safety and quality need to be owned by the industry and firms have the primary responsibility to reliably provide quality products.”

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