The FDA isn’t conducting food safety inspections overseas through at least April because of the coronavirus, but the move has more to do with the federal government’s travel restrictions than it does food.

Although the Food and Drug Administration is referring to the action as a postponement of inspections, it amounts to a suspension of inspection activity. Food inspections at land and sea ports of entry into the United States will continue as part of the government’s normal domestic operations.

“The FDA based this decision on a number of factors, including State Department Level 4 travel advisories in which travel is prohibited for U.S. government employees,” according to the FDA’s notice related to coronavirus, which is also referred to as COVID-19.

The agency continues to downplay the ability of the coronavirus to be spread via food saying there is “no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”

However, public health officials say the virus can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic, stainless steal, and other metals that often come into contact with food. The FDA says its classic advice to clean, separate, cook, and chill is a frontline defense in containment of the spread of the virus.

Public concern about foodservice workers spreading the virus are not founded in facts as they are currently known, according to the FDA.

“. . . the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person in some communities in the U.S.,” according to the FDA’s coronavirus web page. “The CDC recommends that if you are sick, stay home until you are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others. Anyone handling, preparing and serving food should always follow safe food handling procedures, such as washing hands and surfaces often.”

The FDA announcement this week says officials believe the agency will be able to “maintain oversight over international manufacturers and imported products using alternative tools and methods.”

“These include denying entry of unsafe products into the U.S., physical examinations and/or product sampling at our borders, reviewing a firm’s previous compliance history, using information sharing from foreign governments as part of mutual recognition and confidentiality agreements. . .”

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