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USDA, FDA advise businesses in need of protective equipment

Food and agriculture businesses are in need of face coverings, disinfectants and protective equipment to continue their operations

The agencies that oversee the U.S. food supply offered advice Friday to food and agriculture businesses in search of cloth face coverings, disinfectants and protective equipment to continue operations and reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks.

In a joint announcement, the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration said manufacturers and suppliers should treat orders from the food and agriculture industries as priorities after filling orders from hospitals, retirement homes, long-term care, hospice and other health care-providing establishments, as well as the emergency responder community.

The focus on equipment and disinfectants in food-related industries has grown as meat and poultry processing plants closed or slowed production because of COVID-19 outbreaks among workers. Members of Congress and advocates for farmworkers have raised concerns about the availability of face coverings, protective gear and hand-washing stations for laborers who may work closely together, ride crowded transport and live in congested housing.    

If suppliers cannot meet their needs, USDA and the FDA said in an accompanying document that the food and agriculture sector can submit requests to state emergency management agencies. Those requests should be as detailed as possible about quantities of supplies needed and estimates of when on-hand supplies will run out.

USDA and FDA said it would also help to describe how the lack of equipment or supplies could affect “the supply of food, agricultural commodities or agricultural inputs, and anticipated duration of its impact.”

Applicants also should note if the supplies will help meet local, state or federal food safety, worker safety or health rules, USDA and FDA advised. If a state agency cannot provide supplies, then it should contact its Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Response Coordination Center for help.

USDA and the FDA advised the food and agriculture sectors —which includes farmers, food manufacturers, agricultural suppliers, food retailers and food storage and distributors — to try to find alternatives to medical-grade personal protective equipment, disinfectants and sanitation supplies.

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