KGUN 9 On Your SideNewsCoronavirus


Produce shippers fear inspectors could spread COVID

New inspections bring more visits to warehouses
Posted at 7:46 PM, Apr 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 22:46:40-04

NOGALES, Ariz. - Bringing fruit and vegetables from Mexico through Nogales Arizona is an industry worth billions. Now industry leaders are worried new inspection requirements may raise the risk of spreading COVID not through produce but through people.

Produce packers want inspections unrelated to health and safety suspended until the virus threat subsides.

There’s a very good chance the fruit and vegetables on your table came from Mexico, and passed through a packing house in Nogales.

Jaime Chamberlain of JC Distributing says, “We can't afford to get anyone in any one of our facilities sick. We're vital to the nation's food supply.”

Chamberlain runs a major produce operation, and chairs the Port Authority that oversees cross border shipping in Nogales.

He says right when the packing houses are keeping people out to prevent spreading COVID person to person, State and Federal Agriculture Departments are sending many more people from warehouse to warehouse to inspect produce ---but not for health and safety issues---to inspect for blemishes or fruit and vegetables that may not be the ideal size or shape.

He says, “They have nothing to do with with E-Coli or salmonella, or looking for bugs or anything like that. That's another that's FDA. (The US Food and Drug Administration.)”

The produce industry wants authorities to suspend the inspections for cosmetic qualities, then resume when the virus precautions lift.

Chamberlain says health and safety inspections will continue, but as the produce crosses the border.---and we do want to make it clear no one is raising concerns about fruits and vegetables bringing in coronavirus.

The virus did hit produce sales. Scott Vandervoet is President of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. He says when restaurants cut back to take out only, that part of the market dropped more than 90 percent and grocery sales did not take up the slack.

“So we think that going forward, there's going to be a lot of affordable fruits and vegetables available to the consumer at the supermarket.”

But produce leaders say their community is their main concern right now and they worry sending more people to the warehouses---for low priority inspections--could help COVID spread.

KGUN9 asked the Arizona Agriculture Department about the concerns but did not receive a response by deadline.