In a March 23 letter to ag industry stakeholders, the Washington State Department of Agriculture announced measures it was taking to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The letter reads, “Beginning Monday, March 23, 2020, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Food Safety Program is suspending all routine field activities, including those for Grade ‘A’ Dairy, until further notice. This action is prompted in support of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, protect our staff, and protect the public. To be clear, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. You can read more about that here: FDA – Food Safety and COVID-19”
In an interview, Hector Castro, the Communications Director for WSDA, described the reasoning behind the suspensions. “We were kind of moving toward that direction ahead of time,” Castro said, “because even before Gov Inslee’s order, he had been directing people to telework and take steps to minimize their contact with one another. What our food safety division was to take a look at their body of work and see what steps they could take and what they could suspend, and focus on some of the more critical public health issues.”
WSDA says they will continue to perform critical functions such as responding to foodborne illness outbreaks, providing technical assistance and outreach to the public and our regulated industries, ensuring interstate sales of Grade ‘A’ milk products continues, investigating adulteration that threatens human health and complaint investigations.
Castro says that these steps are temporary, and required FDA approval in some cases. “They would like us to do some of these inspections under normal circumstances,” Castro said. “Given the fact that we’re facing this pandemic, it just made sense to try and take some of these measures temporarily as a means to try to stop the spread of the virus.”