Inspections halted at Iowa’s food processing plants

The federal government has suspended routine inspections of food processing plants due to COVID-19. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals has indefinitely suspended all routine inspections at the state’s food-processing plants.

The agency is under contract with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to handle the inspection of Iowa’s food processing and manufacturing plants. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA recently issued an order instructing all states to cease inspections at those plants.

According to the Iowa Department of Economic Development, 31 of the world’s 100 largest food manufacturers or processors have operations based in Iowa. There are more than 1,200 Iowa food processors, IDED says, that generate $36 billion worth of food products annually.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides oversight of meat and egg products, said March 17 that it intends to continue with normal inspections. But roughly 77% of the nation’s food supply — including dairy, produce, seafood, processed and packaged foods and shelled eggs — is regulated by the FDA and is subject to state inspections.

Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, said this week that a critical part of the agency’s mission is “safeguarding the human and animal food supply (and) helping to ensure that our food is not contaminated at any point during its journey along the supply chain.”

He said while there is no evidence of food, or food packaging, being associated with transmission of the coronavirus, the suspension of inspections will “help reduce the risk of infection for FDA investigators and state inspectors in ways that won’t interrupt the process of how safe foods reach the market.”

Inspections “for cause” will still take place, he said, when a potential threat to public health is identified.

The Food and Consumer Safety Bureau within the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals is also limiting its inspection of hotels, home bakeries, food trucks and other food establishments to those prompted by complaints; to follow-up inspections that stem from previously cited violations; and to pre-opening inspections for new businesses.

Businesses that need to apply for or renew their food licenses are are being encouraged to do so online.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has limited restaurant service in Iowa to drive-through, carry-out, and delivery only at least through 11:59 p.m., March 31.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.