FDA Answers Processors’ FAQs on COVID-19

Social distancing, facility cleaning, hand sanitizers, and more are covered.

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The following are frequently asked questions from members of the animal food industry related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Q: How do I maintain social distancing in my animal food production/processing facility and food retail establishment where employees typically work within close distances?

To prevent spread of COVID-19, CDC is recommending individuals employ social distancing or maintaining approximately 6 feet from others, when possible. In animal food production/processing facilities and retail food establishments, an evaluation should be made to identify and implement operational changes that increase employee separation. However, social distancing to the full 6 feet will not be possible in some animal food facilities.

Workers in the food and agriculture sector fill critical and essential roles within communities. Promoting the ability of our workers within the animal food and agriculture industry to continue to work during periods of community restrictions, social distances, and closure orders, among others, is crucial to community continuity and community resilience. This was reinforced by DHS in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19.

The risk of an employee transmitting COVID-19 to another is dependent on distance between employees, the duration of the exposure, and the effectiveness of employee hygiene practices and sanitation. When it’s impractical for employees in these settings to maintain social distancing, effective hygiene practices should be maintained to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. 

IMPORTANT: Maintaining social distancing in the absence of effective hygiene practices may not prevent the spread of this virus. Animal food facilities should be vigilant in their hygiene practices, including frequent and proper handwashing and routine cleaning of surfaces that workers commonly touch or contact. 

Because the intensity of the COVID-19 outbreak may differ according to geographic location, coordination with state and local officials is strongly encouraged for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.  

Sick employees should follow the CDC’s What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Q: What steps can I take to clean my animal food facility/equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Some steps that can be taken to clean a facility or equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include:

  • Following current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) requirements for animal food safety to maintain clean surfaces.
  • While not universally required under the CGMPs in the Preventive Controls for Animal Food (PCAF) regulation, consider sanitizing high-contact surfaces and equipment that workers may come into contact with.

See:  FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Animal Food.

  • Human food facilities are required to use EPA-registered “sanitizer” products in their cleaning and sanitizing practices. Cleaning and sanitizing agents used in animal food production must be safe and adequate under the conditions for use. Using the EPA-registered sanitizers may be one means of helping ensure safety and adequacy.
  • In addition, there is a list of EPA-registered “disinfectant” products for COVID-19 on the Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 list that have qualified under EPA’s emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 
  • IMPORTANT: Check the product label guidelines for if and where these disinfectant products are safe and recommended for use in food manufacturing areas or food establishments. 
  • We encourage coordination with localExternal Link Disclaimer health officials for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.
  • Animal food facilities may want to consider a more frequent cleaning schedule.

Q: Are workers in the animal food (including for livestock and pet animals) sector considered part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce?

Yes, in a guidance last updated by Department of Homeland Security on March 28, Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response, workers in the Food and Agriculture sector – agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and food service and allied industries – are named as essential critical infrastructure workers. Promoting the ability of American workers within the food and agriculture industry to continue to work during periods of community restrictions, social distances, and closure orders, among others, is crucial to community continuity and community resilience.

Q: Where should I send questions if we are having problems moving animal food/ingredients or getting animal food/ingredients through areas that have curfews and restrictions because of the coronavirus?

If you are experiencing issues regarding your supply chain, delivery of goods, or business continuity, please contact the FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center at NBEOC@fema.dhs.gov. This is a 24/7 operation, and they can assist in directing your inquiry to the proper contact. 

Q: Will FDA/EPA approve off-label use of quaternary ammonium sanitizer at 200 ppm as a hand sanitizer for checkers and customers?  It is currently on the EPA approved list for use in retail to sanitize food prep areas, dishes etc., and we would like to use it instead of gel hand sanitizer due to the lack of availability.

We are aware of temporary out-of-stock conditions of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Several manufacturers of these products have indicated that they are working to replenish supplies. In addition, the FDA has issued guidance for the temporary compounding of certain alcohol-based hand sanitizers by pharmacists in state-licensed pharmacies or federal facilities and registered outsourcing facilities. See Immediately in Effect Guidance for Industry: Policy for Temporary Compounding of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency. FDA has also issued guidance for the temporary preparation of certain alcohol-based hand sanitizer products by firms during the public health emergency (COVID-19). See Guidance for Industry: Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency (COVID-19).

Hand sanitizers are not intended to replace handwashing in food production and retail settings. Instead, hand sanitizers may be used in addition to or in combination with proper handwashing. CDC recommends that everyone wash their hands with plain soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be used if plain soap and water are not available.

As an interim measure, we understand some food establishments have set up quaternary ammonium hand-dip stations and sprays at 200 ppm concentration. These products are intended for use on surfaces, and as such, may not be formulated for use on skin. FDA is aware of adverse event reports from consumers using such products as a replacement for hand sanitizers and advises against using these products as replacements for hand sanitizers.

For additional information, visit CVM’s COVID-19 page, Animal Health & Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019  (COVID-19) and FDA’s page, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

For additional assistance from the Center for Veterinary Medicine on animal food safety matters, contact AskCVM@fda.hhs.gov.


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