The following are frequently asked questions from members of the animal food industry related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
For additional information, visit CVM’s COVID-19 page, Animal Health & Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), FDA’s Human Food Safety & COVID-19 FAQs, and FDA's page, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
For additional assistance from the Center for Veterinary Medicine on animal food safety matters, contact [email protected].
Questions & Answers
Q: Is the U.S. animal food supply safe?
Currently there is no evidence of animal 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 or microbial pathogens that can cause animal illness through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. This includes between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. 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 mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Q: Will there be animal food shortages? - updated 4/16/2020
There are no nationwide shortages of animal food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock. Animal food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the United States and no widespread disruptions have been reported in the supply chain.
FDA is closely monitoring the entire food supply chain for any shortages, in collaboration with industry and our federal and state partners. CVM heard that there was a rush on buying pet food from both retail facilities and online ordering, but pet food manufacturers increased production to ensure that pet food is available to consumers. We remain in regular contact with animal food manufacturers and retail stores.
Q: Where should the animal food industry go for guidance about business operations?
Animal food facilities, like other work establishments, need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a particular area. We encourage coordination with local health officials for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where they have operations. If you are experiencing issues regarding your supply chain, delivery of goods, or business continuity, please contact the FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center at [email protected]. This is a 24/7 operation and they can assist in directing your inquiry to the proper contact. Another resource is CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Q: What measures is FDA-CVM taking to address the impact of COVID-19 on the animal food industry?
CVM continues to work with all of FDA—and in fact, all of government—on the collaborative response to address COVID-19. We are in close contact with CDC, USDA, EPA, and FEMA. CVM is part of FDA’s Incident Management Group, to coordinate actions across all FDA-regulated products. And we’re coordinating with state and local governments, as well, because the COVID-19 situation is so fluid and impacts different areas of our country differently at any given time.
Examples of CVM’s ongoing work include:
- Working with industry on potential animal food or ingredient shortages to keep abreast of supply chain issues, should they emerge.
- Providing guidance on issues that relate to worker health at facilities and to any impact on products.
- Ensuring the animal food sector in all its forms is represented on the critical infrastructure list so animal food facilities can continue their vital work.
- Modifying our inspection approaches to keep animal food workers and FDA staff safe, while still helping to ensure the safety of the animal food supply.
Q: What measures is FDA-CVM taking to ensure that we remain able to address foodborne illness linked to animal food during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Currently there is no evidence of animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.
FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine manages outbreak response for animal food and is staffed and prepared to respond to complaints and incidents of foodborne illness in animals.
Please see Report a Problem if you need to report a concern with animal food.
Q. Do you have best practices to share with retail food stores, restaurants, and food pick-up and delivery services that cover safe food handling, as well as employee health? - added April 16, 2020
FDA is sharing information about best practices to operate retail food stores, restaurants, and associated pick-up and delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard workers and consumers. The information in two convenient formats addresses key considerations for how foods offered at retail and restaurants can be safely handled and delivered to the public, as well as key best practices for employee health, cleaning and sanitizing, and personal protective equipment (PPE). See Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants, and Food Pick-Up/Delivery Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Q: How do I maintain social distancing in my animal food production/processing facility and food retail establishment where employees typically work within close distances? - updated 4/6/2020
To prevent spread of COVID-19, CDC is recommending individuals employ social distancing or maintaining approximately 6 feet from others, when possible. In animal food production/processing facilities and retail food establishments, an evaluation should be made to identify and implement operational changes that increase employee separation. However, social distancing to the full 6 feet will not be possible in some animal food facilities.
The risk of an employee transmitting COVID-19 to another is dependent on distance between employees, the duration of the exposure, and the effectiveness of employee hygiene practices and sanitation. When it’s impractical for employees in these settings to maintain social distancing, effective hygiene practices should be maintained to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Also, see Should Employees in animal food production and retail settings and delivery staff for home-based delivery services wear face coverings to prevent exposure to COVID-19?
IMPORTANT: Maintaining social distancing in the absence of effective hygiene practices may not prevent the spread of this virus. Animal food facilities should be vigilant in their hygiene practices, including frequent and proper hand-washing and routine cleaning of surfaces that workers commonly touch or contact.
Because the intensity of the COVID-19 outbreak may differ according to geographic location, coordination with state and local officials is strongly encouraged for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.
Sick employees should follow the CDC’s What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Q: Should employees, such as cashiers, baggers, and cleaning personnel in animal food production and retail settings (such as pet stores or farm supply stores) and delivery staff for home-based delivery services, wear face coverings to prevent exposure to COVID-19? - updated 4/24/2020
On April 3, the CDC released an updated recommendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends the use of simple cloth face coverings as a voluntary public health measure in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies).
For workers on farms, and in food production, processing, and retail settings who do not typically wear masks as part of their jobs, consider the following if you choose to use a cloth face covering to slow the spread of COVID-19:
- Maintain face coverings in accordance with parameters in FDA’s Model Food Code sections 4-801.11 Clean Linens and 4-802.11 Specifications.
- Launder reusable face coverings before each daily use.
- CDC also has additional information on the use of face coverings, including washing instructions and information on how to make homemade face covers.
NOTE: The cloth face coverings recommended by CDC are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.
In addition, FDA has developed a fact sheet to provide helpful information to the human and animal food industries on the Use of Respirators, Facemasks, and Cloth Face Coverings in the Food and Agriculture Sector During Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic (last updated 4/24/20).
Q: What steps can I take to clean my animal food facility/equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Some steps that can be taken to clean a facility or equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include:
- Following current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) requirements for animal food safety to maintain clean surfaces.
- While not universally required under the CGMPs in the Preventive Controls for Animal Food (PCAF) regulation, consider sanitizing high-contact surfaces and equipment that workers may come into contact with.
- Human food facilities are required to use EPA-registered “sanitizer” products in their cleaning and sanitizing practices. Cleaning and sanitizing agents used in animal food production must be safe and adequate under the conditions for use. Using the EPA-registered sanitizers may be one means of helping ensure safety and adequacy.
- In addition, there is a list of EPA-registered “disinfectant” products for COVID-19 on the Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 list that have qualified under EPA’s emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
- IMPORTANT: Check the product label guidelines for if and where these disinfectant products are safe and recommended for use in food manufacturing areas or food establishments.
- We encourage coordination with local health officials for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.
- Animal food facilities may want to consider a more frequent cleaning schedule.
Q: Are workers in the animal food (including for livestock and pet animals) sector considered part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce?
Yes, in a guidance last updated by Department of Homeland Security on March 28, Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response, workers in the Food and Agriculture sector – agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and food service and allied industries – are named as essential critical infrastructure workers. Promoting the ability of American workers within the food and agriculture industry to continue to work during periods of community restrictions, social distances, and closure orders, among others, is crucial to community continuity and community resilience.
Q: Where should I send questions if we are having problems moving animal food/ingredients or getting animal food/ingredients through areas that have curfews and restrictions because of the coronavirus?
If you are experiencing issues regarding your supply chain, delivery of goods, or business continuity, please contact the FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center at [email protected]. This is a 24/7 operation and they can assist in directing your inquiry to the proper contact.
Q: Will FDA/EPA approve off-label use of quaternary ammonium sanitizer at 200 ppm as a hand sanitizer for checkers and customers? It is currently on the EPA approved list for use in retail to sanitize food prep areas, dishes etc., and we would like to use it instead of gel hand sanitizer due to the lack of availability.
We are aware of temporary out-of-stock conditions of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Several manufacturers of these products have indicated that they are working to replenish supplies. In addition, the FDA has issued guidance for the temporary compounding of certain alcohol-based hand sanitizers by pharmacists in state-licensed pharmacies or federal facilities and registered outsourcing facilities. See Immediately in Effect Guidance for Industry: Policy for Temporary Compounding of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency. FDA has also issued guidance for the temporary preparation of certain alcohol-based hand sanitizer products by firms during the public health emergency (COVID-19). See Guidance for Industry: Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency (COVID-19).
Hand sanitizers are not intended to replace handwashing in food production and retail settings. Instead, hand sanitizers may be used in addition to or in combination with proper handwashing. CDC recommends that everyone wash their hands with plain soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be used if plain soap and water are not available.
As an interim measure, we understand some food establishments have set up quaternary ammonium hand-dip stations and sprays at 200 ppm concentration. These products are intended for use on surfaces, and as such, may not be formulated for use on skin. FDA is aware of adverse event reports from consumers using such products as a replacement for hand sanitizers and advises against using these products as replacements for hand sanitizers.
To help the human and animal food industries, FDA published the fact sheet, What to Do if You Have COVID-19 Confirmed Positive or Exposed Workers in Your Food Production, Storage, or Distribution Operations Regulated by FDA (last updated April 24, 2020).
Q: A worker in my animal food production/processing facility/farm has tested positive for COVID-19. What do I need to do to continue operations while protecting my other employees? - updated 7/17/2020
To ensure continuity of operations, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, informed by the risk assessment of the workplace that accounts for COVID-19 mitigations already in place, provided they remain symptom-free and additional precautions are taken to protect them and the community.
Sick workers should stay home or go home if they develop symptoms during the work day. For workers potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19, employers should:
- Check temperatures and assess symptoms of works, ideally before entering the facility or operation.
- If no fever (>100.4F) or COVID-19 symptoms are present, works should self-monitor for onset of symptoms during their shift.
As a general good practice for all workers, employers should:
- Encourage workers to use an employer-approved face mask or cloth face covering at all times while in the workplace.
- Ensure that workers can practice social distancing or employ engineering solutions if that is not possible.
- Make available facilities and materials for worker hygiene so workers can practice CDC recommended handwashing.
- Clean and disinfect workplaces/stations at frequent intervals.
For additional information, including Federal government resources and guidance, see What to Do If You Have a COVID-19 Confirmed Positive Worker or Workers Who Have Been Exposed to a Confirmed Case of COVID-19.
Q: Do I need to recall animal food products produced in the facility during the time that the worker was potentially shedding virus while working?
We do not anticipate that animal 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.
Q: If a worker in my animal food processing facility/farm has tested positive for COVID-19, should I close the facility? If so, for how long?
Animal food facilities need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a given area. These decisions will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission – not based on food safety.
Q: If a worker in my animal food processing facility has tested positive for COVID-19, should I test the environment for the SARS-CoV-2 virus? - updated 7/17/20
Currently there is no evidence of animal food or animal food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.
Facilities are required to use personnel practices that protect against contamination of animal food, food contact surfaces and packaging, and to maintain clean facilities and food contact surfaces. Although it is possible that the infected worker may have touched surfaces in your facility, FDA-regulated animal food manufacturers are required to follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). Maintaining CGMPs in the facility should minimize the potential for surface contamination and eliminate contamination when it occurs. With the detection of the coronavirus in asymptomatic people and studies showing survival of coronavirus on surfaces for short periods of time, as an extra precaution, animal food facilities may want to consider a more frequent cleaning and sanitation schedule for high human contact surfaces.
Q: What do U.S. exporters of FDA-regulated food products need to consider related to COVID-19?
U.S. exporters of FDA-regulated food products are responsible for following U.S. laws and regulations and following the requirements of the countries to which they export. Recently, some countries have begun to request commitments to provide information that food is free of the COVID-19 virus and/or has been produced under conditions that prevent contamination by the COVID-19 virus. At this time, there is no evidence of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, a respiratory virus, through food or food packaging, and the FDA does not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19. Food facilities need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a given area. These decisions will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission – not based on food safety. FDA food safety requirements are robust and ensure that food produced for both domestic consumption and export is safe. The FDA is also communicating its understanding of the science related to COVID-19 transmission and food safety to foreign governments.
U.S. food exporters need to carefully consider and distinguish official food safety requirements of the importing countries and those conditions being requested in the context of a business-to-business relationship. Differentiating this will assist exporters in understanding their business options. Exporters are welcome to use existing FDA communications posted on its website to assist with their interactions with countries to which they export, if helpful.