Post-pandemic changes to food safety protocols?

By Daniel Pessar (Guest Blogger)

In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the Best Practices for Re-Opening Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Food Safety Checklist. The document contains dozens of questions for food facilities to consider relating to Handwashing Stations, Employee Health, and Facility Operations. Some of the questions are very specific, such as

“Are all the handwashing sinks functional and able to reach 100 F minimum?”

Best Practices for Re-Opening Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Food Safety Checklist, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (May 21, 2020), https://www.fda.gov/media/137867/download

Yet, food safety professionals understood that this list was mostly comprised of food safety recommendations that the FDA’s most recent Food Code already includes. For example, the 2017 Food Code—its most up to date full release—contains the following:

[Handwashing sinks] shall be equipped to provide water at a temperature of at least 38°C (100°F) through a mixing valve or combination faucet.

FDA Food Code 2017 §5-202.12, https://www.fda.gov/media/110822/download

Because the FDA’s mandate regarding retail food establishments mostly relates to food safety, this makes sense. The checklist contains guidance generally applicable to reopening food establishments, serving as a reminder for responsible parties to make sure all of the core systems and policies are functioning. Consistent with this purpose, ventilation, pest management, fire prevention, product inspection and rotation, and warewashing are just some of the items mentioned in the document.

Three items in the checklist relate to social distancing, but most of the dozens of items listed are familiar to retail food establishments, such as:

“Have you trained and reminded employees of effective hand hygiene practices including washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing?”

Best Practices for Re-Opening Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Food Safety Checklist, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (May 21, 2020), https://www.fda.gov/media/137867/download

This unchanged focus on food safety is understandable given the lack of evidence associating food with the pandemic. According to the FDA:

“Currently there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. If you are concerned about contamination of food or food packaging, wash your hands after handling food packaging, after removing food from the packaging, before you prepare food for eating and before you eat.”

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (Current as of June 17, 2020),

https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease- 2019-covid-19/covid-19-frequently-asked-questions

While the CDC might advise about the risks of attending certain restaurants, the FDA has a different role to play and the pandemic does not necessarily warrant a change in its strategies for ensuring food safety. While the public might be responsible in focusing on handwashing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, handwashing sinks in food establishments continue to serve more general food safety functions as well. The 2017 Food Code explains that the accessibility of handwashing sinks with warm water are important for materials encountered in kitchens, too:

“Warm water is more effective than cold water in removing the fatty soils encountered in kitchens. An adequate flow of warm water will cause soap to lather and aid in flushing soil quickly from the hands. ASTM Standards for testing the ef cacy of handwashing formulations specify a water temperature of 40°C ± 2°C (100 to 108°F).”

FDA Food Code 2017, Annex 3: Public Health Reasons/Administrative Guidelines §5-202.12, https://www.fda.gov/media/110822/download

The next full FDA Food Code, adopted on some level by food-regulating agencies in 49 states, is scheduled to be released in 2021. While public health and social distancing guidance may continue to affect countless interactions for the foreseeable future, there is no indication that food safety best practices are about to change.

*Daniel Pessar is a third-year student at Harvard Law School. Before law school, he worked in the real estate investment industry for six years. He is the author of three books and numerous articles. He can be contacted at dpessar@jd20.law.harvard.edu

Guide to Careers in Public Interest Food Law and Policy Published

By Diana Winters

A food law and policy career, especially for attorneys interested in working in the public interest sector, can take many shapes. Food policy work often intersects with other legal subject matters, such as housing, health care, education, and family law. For this reason, the Resnick Center has put together a digital guide to Careers in Public Interest Food Law and Policy to help law students and graduates understand the varied directions a public interest food law career can go, and how to embark upon such a career path.

Although the guide contains some resources specific to UCLA Law students, it also contains many more general resources, and will be useful to all law students and law school graduates seeking to explore public interest food law and policy careers.

We’re excited about this guide, and hope it can help grow our vibrant field.

Street Vending Decriminalized in L.A.

Just a note to follow up on our guest post by Joseph Pileri on October 3, 2018, discussing new legislation legalizing street vending across California.  This week, the Los Angeles City Council finalized an ordinance legalizing and regulating street vending, ahead of the state law discussed by Pileri that takes effect on January 1, 2019.  The city will implement a permit system, granting site-specific permits to vendors.  This system will take a year to develop, and until then, Los Angeles will regulate street vendors by requiring them to comply with certain rules and standards.

 

Only the Brave Dare Eat the Fare!

October 25, 2018

Last week, Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, reviewed The Poison Squad: 
One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, by Deborah Blum.  The Poison Squad is about Harvey Wiley, the chief chemist at the USDA at the turn of the Twentieth Century, who worked to improve food safety and improve regulation and labeling in the United States.  Wiley formed a “poison squad” of young volunteers, to test the effects of various food additives.  The sign in their dining room read, “Only the Brave Dare Eat the Fare.”

As Schlosser points out, we are faced today, as we were last century, with adulterated food, rampant food fraud, and untested food additives.  The poison squad is us.

 

 

Everything You Need To Know About The Upcoming Farm Bill Debate

 

With media attention focused on so many high-profile issues occupying Congress, the renewal of the farm bill has flown under the radar. The farm bill, which is a massive piece of legislation that addresses many aspects of the US food system—including food production, conservation, nutrition policy, and food access—must be passed every five to seven years. The latest farm bill, known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed in February 2014, and many provisions of this bill expire in 2018. The US House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been holding hearings since early 2017 to gather information about important issues from members of the agricultural and nutrition communities. After the hearings and a budget determination by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), each agriculture committee will report full drafts of the bill to the floor. The bills when passed by each house will then be reconciled by a joint committee, the reconciled bill will be returned to both houses for a vote, and, if all goes well, be sent to the president to sign. The complexity of this process is magnified by the size and reach of the farm bill.

The 2014 farm bill has 12 titles, covering price and income support for farmers, crop insurance, nutrition programs (including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]), specialty and organic crop programs, conservation, and trade, among other things. The CBO projected that the 2014 farm bill would cost approximately $95 billion a year, with about $75 billion of that going to nutrition programs, and most of that to SNAP funding. It is no surprise, therefore, that these nutrition programs are always a controversial part of farm bill reauthorization. The mechanisms embedded in the farm bill to assist farmers with price supports for certain commodities also implicate nutrition policy and are a contentious subject. This post highlights these and several other issues that will dominate discussion as the next farm bill reauthorization process moves forward.

Nutrition—Title 4

Questions of whether nutrition programs should remain part of the farm bill, and whether food assistance programs should be reformed, will be prominent in 2018 farm bill debates. Nutrition contains three subtitles—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Commodity Distribution Program, and Miscellaneous Programs. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) began supplying people with food stamps in 1939, requiring users to buy surplus food with the stamps. The program continued in the 1960s, but the surplus requirement was eliminated. In 1973, the food stamps program was incorporated into the farm bill, and the name was changed to SNAP in 2008 to fight the stigma of food stamps. The Commodity Distribution Program gives the USDA the authority to purchase food for school lunches and for direct distribution to those in need, including to food pantries, food banks, and programs that supply food directly to households. The Miscellaneous subtitle includes initiatives such as a farmers’ market program for seniors and a farm-to-school pilot program.

The incorporation of the nutrition title into the farm bill increased support for the bill from urban legislators, adding to its traditional support from rural districts, but the marriage of the subjects has been strained. In 2013, the House of Representatives tried to remove the nutrition title from the 2014 farm bill, but that version of the bill did not pass. Critics of the combination, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, argue that the food stamp program is in need of reform and that as a step toward that reform the nutrition title should be removed from the farm bill. The Trump administration’s USDA, however, has not issued a strong call to remove the nutrition title from the farm bill, instead focusing on reforming the SNAP program in its articulated priorities for the bill.

In the USDA’s 2018 Farm Bill and Legislative Principles document, issued at the end of January 2018, it calls for SNAP benefits to be connected to work requirements. The USDA will continue to “support work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance.” This is consistent with the administration’s broader efforts to connect public benefits to work requirements, as in the Medicaid program. There are already requirements in place for able-bodied adults without dependents, who can receive SNAP benefits for no more than three months in three years if they do not meet work requirements, although not all states take away benefits for noncompliance. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has expressed, in public meetings around the country, that the administration would like to move more people off SNAP, partly by tightening the work requirements for these able-bodied adults.

Commodities—Title 1

The price and income supports that the farm bill gives to certain commodity producers have historically been vigorously argued and that contentiousness has already begun this time around. These price supports were the reason the first farm bill was established during the Great Depression—the government purchased excess commodities and provided payments to farmers not to overproduce, thereby stabilizing the market—and they persisted for decades. In the 1990s, Congress “tried to wean farmers from subsidies and let the market dictate prices” by eliminating direct payments to farmers. After prices dropped, however, Congress reintroduced direct payments. In the 2014 farm bill, Congress expanded the crop insurance program (Title 11) and introduced two programs in lieu of direct payments—Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage.

The traditional design of price and income supports has been criticized by both conservative and progressivecommentators for years because these supports have been awarded to farms every year, even when times were good; have been based on production, leading the biggest farms to receive the most subsidies; and are susceptible to fraud. There is also evidence that the expansion of crop insurance in 2014 increased costs for the government, the opposite of the intended effect. Moreover, the supports are only available for certain “major” commodities, including corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, and oats, not fruits and vegetables, which fall under a different title—Title 10—Specialty Crops and Horticulture. For decades, critics of the programs have argued that these governmental subsidies have artificially lowered the price of crops that are used to make processed food, thereby increasing the availability of these foods and negatively affecting the health of Americans. This connection was at issue during the 2014 farm bill debate and will most likely be an issue during the debate over the 2018 bill.

Specialty Crops And Horticulture—Title 10

Specialty crops, which are defined as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture),” have only been included in the farm bill since 2008. Support for these crops is only a small portion of the farm bill, and the support is structured differently than that for commodity crops. As described by the Congressional Research Service, the support is indirect and benefits producers as a whole, not individually—“These types of programs include marketing and promotion programs, crop insurance and disaster assistance, plant pest and disease protections, trade assistance, and research and extension services, among other types of indirect support.” In addition to support for specialty crops, the Horticulture title provides funds for farmers’ markets and the promotion of local foods and to benefit producers of certified organic foods.

Issues involving specialty crops include whether funding should be increased for price and income supports for these crops and whether crop insurance (Title 11) should be expanded to include more producers of fruits and vegetables.

Conservation—Title 2

The farm bill contains both mandatory and voluntary conservation programs. For example, before receiving crop insurance premium support, producers must show that they have complied with certain conservation programs regarding highly erodible lands and wetlands. The 2014 Conservation Title contains approximately 10 conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to replace crops on highly erodible lands and wetlands with conservation plantings, and the Equipment Quality Incentives Program, which provides assistance to farmers to implement practices that will conserve environmentally sensitive land.

Critics of the farm bill’s conservation programs argue that the farm bill as a whole has encouraged agriculture that is environmentally devastating and that price and income supports and crop insurance policies need to be reworked to encourage sustainable agriculture, in addition to a reworking of the conservation title. Moreover, the conservation title needs to include resources to measure how well its programs work.

In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that the Guidelines include sustainability as part of its dietary advice. Ultimately, the recommendation was not followed, but this issue will come up again when the 2020 Dietary Guidelines are discussed. A renewed emphasis on conservation in the 2018 farm bill may resonate with this recognition of the connection between dietary health and environmental sustainability.

In short, the farm bill has an immense effect on the US food system, including in its mechanisms for encouraging which crops are produced and in what way, and in the bill’s control over our nation’s main food assistance program, SNAP. Its complexity and diffuse nature obscure the interconnectedness of the bill, and the political nature of so many of its provisions makes it all the more difficult to assess the legislation as a whole.

by Diana R. H. Winters

Crossposted from Health Affairs blog

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