COVID-19: Small Plants and Inspection Personnel

(Image source: USDA-FSIS)

There has been a growing concern in recent days about FSIS inspectors possibly spreading the COVID-19 virus as they travel between plants on their daily assignments, as well as the number of inspection personnel coming into plants. AAMP has addressed these concerns with FSIS and have had good discussion with the agency.

Inspector travel between plants
To help mitigate the possibility of spreading the virus from one plant to another, we have made several suggestions to the agency on proper protocols for inspection personnel. It is crucial that our small plants to do whatever we can to prevent the spread of the virus. Social distancing is a challenge due to space issues, so this means that having policies in place for staff, as well as inspection personnel and delivery drivers, is critical during this time.

The suggestions we have made for inspection personnel are:

  • Have a separate frock for each plant visit. Leave the frock at the plant it is being used in. Inspectors may not have enough frocks available, so you may need to offer one of yours to them to use while they are in your plant.
  • Have the inspector wipe down their helmet with sanitizer prior to entering the plant to perform their duties. You should be prepared to provide the sanitizer for your inspector to do this.

The likelihood of an inspector transporting the virus from one plant to another on their frock or helmet is very low, but the possibility does exist. If this is something you want to enforce then you should have a conversation with your inspector and ask them if they are willing to follow these steps. FSIS continues to have regular phone calls with inspection personnel. There will be another call in the next few of days at which time our concerns will be shared with them.

Inspection personnel in plants
The other concern coming to us in the last few days is about the number of inspection personnel in plants. AAMP has asked FSIS to limit the personnel in plants to only those doing essential inspection duties. I was told last week by the agency, and again in a phone call yesterday, that they agree and are trying to make sure inspection personnel understand that. This will be covered in their upcoming phone call as well. There should be no FSA’s going on at this time unless they are a “for cause” FSA. All other scheduled or risk base FSA’s should not be happening at this point; this will keep traffic in your plant down.

There is a chance you will see some shadowing of inspectors. There may be a possible need for more personnel in the coming days as a sizable number of inspectors fall into the high-risk group for COVID-19. FSIS is trying to be proactive to make sure they have enough inspectors to cover everyone’s needs.

As we move forward during this challenging time it is vital for the industry and FSIS to continue to work closely together to accomplish the work before us. There is a high demand for the products you produce, and everyone is working long hours to supply the needs of your customers. Let’s practice patience and understanding with each other during this time as we will all be better for it.

Chris Young
AAMP Executive Director

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