( Photo by The Packer staff )

On a daily basis, The Packer sees a number of ways in which lives are being changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, from foodservice operators (and their employees) and the companies that supply them to farmers who’ve been forced to waste crops.

The economic toll of all this is yet to be seen, even as some states and areas gradually open restaurants, if only in a way that limits how many diners can be seated at a time.

But a recent Food and Drug Administration e-mail on new guidance brought me to a stop as I considered what it was saying: “Returning Refrigerated Transport Vehicles and Refrigerated Storage Units to Food Uses After Using Them to Preserve Human Remains During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

I don’t live in an exactly rural area, but the greater-Kansas City area, and my nearby county, has certainly not seen the loss of lives New York City has seen. Reading the news and the updates of the mounting loss of life there and other urban areas is one thing; the fact the FDA has been asked to spell out steps to safely return a temporary morgue into what its original purpose was is another sign of the crazy times we live in.

Before I go further — I can find no evidence of this being a widespread practice and an FDA spokesman wasn’t able to confirm that it’s happening to any degree in New York or elsewhere. I’ve found no case of any food industry that put trucks to use as temporary morgues. In any case, the FDA did its job and addressed it very specifically.

Whenever there’s an adverse event affecting the industry, it’s natural for companies to seek solutions, and offer those solutions to the industry. Take foodborne illness outbreaks, for example. The Packer is often contacted by tech companies with quicker pathogen detection kits for test-and-hold programs at the shipper level, or packaging companies with pathogen fighting-properties built into the material.

Sometimes, though, The Packer can’t really support the company’s message. We recently received an e-mail from an agency representing a packaging company, with the subject line “This Company is Protecting the Produce You Buy.” The company, according to the news release, allows the industry to “package their produce to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Although recent coverage on the company noted consumers have that perception, most of the stories didn’t pursue the safety angle. In one case, though, the CEO was quoted saying “consumers also recognized packaged produce was likely safer than unpackaged.”

On a positive note, companies that received contracts for the Farmers to Families Produce Box Program were packing and shipping the boxes on May 15. One of those companies, Coastal Sunbelt Produce, Laurel, Md., welcomed President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to kick off the program.

The Packer wants to know what’s being packed in the boxes. If you have a contract, send a picture and note what produce is going into the box, and the approximate weight of each variety, to [email protected] 

Chris Koger is The Packer's news editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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