Food Safety in the Time of COVID-19: Is our food supply still secure?

We have heard that the U.S. food supply is safe and secure during the coronavirus epidemic, but we’ve also heard that some farms have had to dispose of food items rather than send them to processing. Is our food supply still secure?

Dr. Frank Yiannis, deputy commissioner of FDA, indicates that there is plenty of food; it’s just not in all the right places based on disruptions to supply chains and markets. For example, flour that is in short supply in 5-pound bags at the grocery store may be available to restaurants and bakeries in 50-pound bags. Another example is shell eggs. A lot of shell eggs are delivered to restaurants or they end up a ‘breaking plants’ that process liquid egg products. With so many restaurants and food service operations closed, more eggs are available for the retail market, but egg cartons that hold 1-dozen eggs (the preferred retail package) are in short supply.  So you might find larger packages of eggs available for a while, until the packaging supply chain catches up. The food industry, distributors, and food safety regulators are all working to find creative solutions so that retail outlets and food banks have access to safe, wholesome food.

If, like me, you have found yourself with quantities of products that you might not normally purchase, how long can you store items? What do those dates on food packages mean?

If the date is past, is the food still safe? Just a reminder that dates on food packages are not safety dates but dates that suggest quality. For example, a  “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. These dates are found on canned soups, boxed meals, and many other grocery store items. The one exception to these ‘dating rules’ is for infant formula. Federal regulations require product dating on infant formula, and consumers should not use infant formula that has expired. [See a previous blog post and use infant formula by the date stamped on the product.]

So what about some bulk packages of food products or even a standard box of cereal or can of soup? You’ll find plenty of information in these resources:

  • Reduce Food Waste   A comprehensive guide to food product dating developed by UW-Madison for use by food banks and food pantries but useful for consumers too.
  • The FoodKeeper App, designed to promote understanding of food and beverage storage to maximize freshness and quality developed by the FDA.
  • Food Product Dating handout developed by the USDA (English PDF) (En Español PDF)

Questions? Contact: Stay well and food safe, Barb