Amid reports of COVID-19 emerging at food processing plants and similar facilities, Sen. Charles Schumer is calling for greater clarity from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA announced the temporary suspension of routine facility inspections and the relaxation of compliance requirements for food producers in March.

As the virus continues to spread throughout the United States, the nation’s grocery and food industries were not spared Schumer said in a news release. He said his concerns were made worse by recent reports of outbreaks in food distribution facilities, processing plants, warehouses, and grocery stores around the nation.

Instances have included a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa which reportedly had 186 employees test positive.

Schumer urged the FDA to immediately clarify its plan to address what he described as a lack of oversight and inspection in the American food supply system, which he said would to restore peace of mind to millions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is reaching alarming new levels every day, leaving no part of life untouched and millions of Americans perpetually concerned,” Schumer said. “In the midst of all that we are facing, New Yorkers deserve to have the peace of mind that the food on their tables is safe to eat. Contaminated food sickens and kills thousands of Americans every year and the challenge of this virus must not be an excuse to let our guard down when it comes to keeping our food supply safe for consumers. The FDA must not scale back essential food-safety inspections and must maintain food-production requirements and guarantee the safety of our food supply in these trying times.”

Schumer’s call for adequate oversight and inspection of the domestic food supply follows reports that the FDA has suspended routine surveillance facility inspections and relaxed compliance requirements. He demanded to know how the FDA was guaranteeing food safety for Americans, especially during a time where New Yorkers are depending on a reliable food supply.

The Center for Diseases Control estimates that roughly 1 in 6 Americans, or 48 million people, gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses every year, even with the FDA’s usual regulations in place.

Salmonella alone causes about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S., costing about $350 million annually, according to Schumer’s office. A salmonella outbreak linked to papaya sickened 24 people in New York last year.

Schumer is specifically asking: n What actions are the FDA taking to ensure the safety of the United States food supply chain?

n How does the FDA plan to deal with food safety in a long-term way if it is months before the country is able to resume normal food safety inspections?

n Does the FDA plan to expand the definition of “essential inspections” to ensure safety throughout the food supply chain?

n Are reports accurate that there are currently no inspectors in the field?

n If inaccurate, how many inspectors are currently throughout the country? Comparatively, how many are there typically?

n Is the FDA supplying all inspectors with personal protective equipment to safely do their jobs?

Johnson Newspapers 7.1