Monday, June 1, 2020
June 1, 2020

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Food-processing operations safe, Washington agriculture officials say

They note facilities already must follow strict guidelines


With about 75 percent of the nation under stay-at-home orders, regional agriculture officials said they do not fear that food-processing operations pose a risk for spreading the coronavirus.

“There is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, we do not believe there is a need to conduct environmental testing in food settings for the virus,” a U.S. Food and Drug Administration statement says in part.

Hector Castro, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said food processors already operate under strict cleanliness guidelines.

“The bottom line is to make sure that you have good sanitation at these facilities,” Castro said. “The recommendations really focus on the worker and the employees, making sure they have hand-washing stations. It’s just been kicked up a notch because of the virus.”

Tim Kovis, spokesman for the Washington Tree Fruit Association, said Washington farmers produced about 136 million boxes in the 2019-2020 season that were placed in cold storage so that fresh apples could be available until the harvest this fall.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 “set very robust cleaning, sanitation and worker hygiene programs,” Kovis said. “So, our industry has worked to reinforce those programs they have already developed.”

Most of those apples are sent to packing houses in the Tri-Cities and Yakima, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

“They’ve always had food safety provisions in place to prevent the spread of illness,” Kovis said. “The FDA has reiterated that the disease is not spread on food or packaging. So there shouldn’t be a concern there. The concern in packing houses is that one person doesn’t spread it to another person.”