The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has been engaged with the larger US produce industry and helping guide many GFVGA members regarding COVID-19. An effective food safety plan coupled with the addition of recommended social distancing, is the best defense a produce operation has against COVID-19.
Below are resources to help a fresh produce operation navigate this unprecedented occurrence in our world.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s March 23, 2020 Executive Orderin response to COVID-19. Food and agriculture are considered critically essential and are being allowed to continue normal business, including the gathering of more than 10 employees.
FDA directly addresses food safety concerns at the bottom of their FAQ page: “Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness and not gastrointestinal illness, and foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. That’s why it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook and chill."
Do I need to recall produce or food products if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 in a food facility?
FDA's FAQ state: “We do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19, as there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging. Additionally, facilities are required to control any risks that might be associated with workers who are ill regardless of the type of virus or bacteria. For example, facilities are required to maintain clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces.”
What do I do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
FDA guidelines states: “If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality. Sick employees should follow the CDC’s What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Employers should consult with the local health department for additional guidance. While the primary responsibility in this instance is to take appropriate actions to protect other workers and people who might have come in contact with the ill employee, facilities should re-double their cleaning and sanitation efforts to control any risks that might be associated with workers who are ill regardless of the type of virus or bacteria.”
PMA has a simple flyer to help limit person-to-person transmission at a food facility.
Will the produce industry be shut down like many other organizations and industries?
No. The food and agriculture industry is defined as critically essential during this time as the country continues to navigate through COVID-19. Federal agencies are doing everything they can to as to not disrupt the food supply chain for American citizens.
I have a customer requesting extension to our payment terms due to the COVID-19 emergency. If I extend payment terms with customers beyond 30 days will it impact my PACA Trust rights?
USDA PACA FAQ: It is strongly advised that all produce sellers – whether growers, shippers, wholesalers, or others – should NOT enter into extended payment terms beyond 30 days, before the initial 30-day payment period is past. Many companies want to cooperate with one another, but extending terms before the end of the 30-day period waives your PACA trust rights and the ability to have preferential trust rights in the event of your customer’s bankruptcy. However, regulations DO ALLOW a seller and buyer to agree to a partial payment plan or enter into a payment schedule AFTER the 30-day period without losing your PACA trust rights.
What if my employees are stopped during a “shelter in place” and curfew?
United Fresh Produce Association tailored a food and beverage coalition resource that companies can provide to workers as attestation that, as a member of the fresh produce industry, they are authorized to work during this crisis.
If a business is having trouble transporting food or with other major supply chain disruptions (for example not being able to get critical supplies), contact FEMA’s national emergency business operations center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What disinfectants can be used to control COVID-19?
The CARES Act is the third piece of legislation that Congress has passed since the beginning of March to address COVID-19 outbreak. A key area that is critical to our southeast fruit and vegetable industry and your farm operation is the $9.5 Billion Targeted Emergency COVID-19 Fund to support agriculture industries impacted by COVID-19, including fruit and vegetable producers, livestock producers, and producer focused on local food systems.
A part of this Act is the Paycheck Protection Program which provides $377 billion to help prevent workers from losing their jobs and small businesses from going under due to economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This program can provide
8 weeks of cash-flow assistance through 100 percent federally guaranteed loans to small employers who maintain their payroll during this emergency. If the employer maintains its payroll, then the portion of the loan used for covered payroll costs,
interest on mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities can be forgiven, which would help workers to remain employed and affected small businesses and our economy to recover quickly from this crisis. This proposal would be retroactive to February
15, 2020 to help bring workers who may have already been laid off back onto payrolls.
The webinar will be a discussion about the CARES Act including an overview of the Paycheck Protection Program and related ag issues.