As Coronavirus Continues To Spread Throughout NY, The Grocery and Food Industries Have Not Been Spared; However, FDA Has Suspended Routine Inspections And Relaxed Standards Putting Consumers’ Health At Risk 

Schumer Says The Midst Of A Pandemic Is No Time To Be Loosening Restrictions, And During These Uncertain Times New Yorkers Shouldn’t Have to Worry About Their Food Safety, Too

Schumer To FDA: New Yorkers Have Enough To Worry About – Make Sure Their Food Is Safe!

As coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread throughout the country, making New York its epicenter with over 10,000 deaths, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to immediately clarify its plan to address the lack over oversight and inspection of the American food supply system – to restore peace of mind to millions.

Last month, the FDA announced the temporary suspension of domestic routine surveillance facility inspections and the relaxation of compliance requirements for food producers. According to Schumer, as the virus continues to spread throughout the United States, the nation’s grocery and food industries were not spared. Schumer’s concerns over the FDA’s rollbacks were exacerbated by recent reports of outbreaks in food distribution facilities, processing plants, warehouses, and grocery stores around the nation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is reaching alarming new levels every day, leaving no part of life untouched and millions of Americans perpetually concerned,” said Senator Schumer. “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,” the Senator added.

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. The senator 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 Disease Control and Prevention 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. A salmonella outbreak linked to papaya sickened 24 people in New York last year.

Senator Schumer’s letter to FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn can be found below:

Dear Commissioner Hahn:

I write today about increasing concerns with our nation’s food supply chain and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) role in ensuring our domestic food chain remain safe and accessible to all Americans.

In the midst of the global pandemic that continues to plague our country, impacting millions of Americans every day and taking the lives of over 10,000 in its epicenter, my home state of New York, I have grave concerns over the lack of adequate oversight and inspection of the domestic food supply. Last month, the FDA announced the temporary suspension of domestic routine surveillance facility inspections and the relaxation of compliance requirements for food producers. My deep concerns over these actions have only been exacerbated by recent reports of mass coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks in food distribution facilities, processing plants, warehouses, and grocery stores in states around the nation. It is paramount that American’s continue to have faith in the safety of their food.

Unfortunately, our country has a long, yet recent, history with many food-borne disease outbreaks. Whether caused by E.coli, listeria, salmonella, or other dangerous microbes, thousands of Americans die each year from foodborne diseases, as per the Center for Disease Control (CDC). According to New York State Department of Health’s (NYDOH) most recent data, there were over 84 outbreaks in 2006 throughout the state. Most recently in April, a Listeria outbreak infected 36 people across 17 states including New York and led to thirty hospitalizations and four deaths.

Our nation’s history, combined with the unprecedented time we’re currently facing, protecting the health and wellbeing of all Americans should remain our top priority. It is these harsh realities, combined with reports of FDA’s roll back of many compliance requirements for food producers and significantly less routine inspections throughout the country that cause deep concerns. I request answers to the following questions with all due speed:

  • What actions are the FDA taking to ensure the safety of the United States food supply chain?
  • Taking into account the FDA’s suspension of domestic routine surveillance facility inspections – how does the FDA plan to combat outbreaks of dangerous food borne illnesses and outbreaks?
  • 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?
  • Does the FDA plan to expand the definition of “essential inspections” to ensure safety throughout the food supply chain?
  • Are reports accurate that there are currently no inspectors in the field?Is the FDA supplying all inspectors with personal protective equipment to safely do their jobs?
    • If inaccurate, how many inspectors are currently throughout the country? Comparatively, how many are there typically?
  • What work has been done with current federal and state contracts to bridge the gap created by suspending the routine inspections?
  • Have any states requested additional resources in light of this decision?
  • Were there contingency plans in place to respond to a pandemic such as this to ensure that food inspections could continue throughout the duration of the widespread infection?
    • If not, is the FDA created a plan to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

I appreciate your attention on this immensely important issue impacting millions of Americans and eagerly await your answers.



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