Food safety management during the pandemic

8:40 - 9:10 am

Food Testing During a Pandemic:

Prioritizing Safety, Health and Well-Being

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​Speaker Profile:

Donna Williams-Hill, Ph.D., received her BS degree in Biology from Northern Illinois University, a Masters of Science in Biology from the Illinois Institute of Technology and her PhD in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Southern California.  Dr. Donna Williams-Hill is the Director of the Microbiology Branch of the U.S. FDA Pacific Food and Feed Laboratory (PSL).  PSL is one of 13 FDA field laboratories that test food, feed and medical device products in support of FDA’s public health mission.  Donna is a part-time instructor in the Human Food and Nutrition Science Department at California State Polytechnic University Pomona and also teaches a Food Microbiology Laboratory course for Chapman University.

​Speaker Profile:

Matthew Walburger, MPH, CDR, USPHS

Matt started with the FDA in 2002. He has been an Investigator, Compliance Officer, Supervisor, Acting Director of Compliance, and now Director of Investigations. Matt is located in Irvine, CA and is one of 2 directors responsible for the Human and Animal Foods West Division 5 (HAFW5) Investigations Branch which covers California, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam, and the Mariana Islands.  He has a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree and is a Commander with the US Public Health Service.

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​Speaker Profile:

Mr. Chu began his FDA career in 2002 as a Consumer Safety Officer (CSO). As a CSO, he conducted domestic food inspection, consumer complaints investigation, traceback investigation, and import investigational work. In 2010, he became a Supervisor Consumer Safety Officer (SCSO). As a supervisor, he managed an Import Field Operation Team, a Centralized Entry Review Team, FDA Centralized Examination Stations (CES Sites), and the Los Angeles International Mail Facility. Mr. Chu was also the Import Program Manager (IPM) for the FDA Los Angeles District. As the IPM, he is the District liaison to FDA headquarters handling import-related issues and concerns. Mr. Chu was selected to be the Director of Investigations Branch for the Division of West Coast Imports on June 10, 2018. The Division of West Coast Imports cover all FDA Air and Sea Port Operations in the States of Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The Investigations Branch handles import sample collection, field examination, entry review, investigation, and inspection of imported FDA regulated products.

Mr. Chu has served as a mentor for the Federal Executive Board in Los Angeles. He also served on multiple FDA HQ committee related to FSMA, Import Process, and Rapid Screening technology. He also has been instrumental in enhancing FDA relationship with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (U.S. FWS), and other State and local agencies. Mr. Chu holds a Bachelor of Science in Applied Ecology from the University California of Irvine.


        The U.S. FDA Office of Regulatory Affairs is responsible for field inspectional and laboratory activities such as firm and farm inspections, sample analysis, review of imported products and working with local, state and foreign counterparts to assure. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA has worked to monitor conditions and make adjustments as appropriate for the duration of the pandemic to ensure employee safety in all FDA worksites across the nation.  For the laboratories, safety initiatives were aligned across three phases designed to identify mission critical work and the initiatives necessary to ensure this work proceeds under the safest conditions.  ORA field laboratories have been operational continually during the pandemic and plan to remain in operation to assure the safety of food and feed products across the nation.

        ORA Investigations Branches have been working under safety protocols based on the COVID activity in specific geographic areas and risk prioritization of field inspections and investigations. Mission Critical Investigations continue to be performed in high risk locations. These are related to pathogen outbreaks, consumer complaints involved with illness/injury, follow up to violative samples, and Class 1 recalls.  Routine inspections and investigations are being conducted in medium and low risk areas based upon a procedure to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID by FDA or Industry Staff.  This procedure includes preannouncing the inspection to firm management utilizing a questionnaire regarding any known COVID activity in the firm.  During the inspection mask wearing, maintaining distance between others, and washing hands are emphasized.  FDA strives to reduce inspectional time in the firms where possible

        ORA’s Office of Enforcement and Import Operation (OEIO) have been conducting mission criteria work at the United States Port of Entries with Partnering Government Agencies under safety protocols and Field Management Directives.  OEIO Investigators have been interdicting smuggled/misdeclared foods, fraudulent COVID-19 products, and tainted dietary supplements.  In addition, OEIO has added the ability to conduct remote Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) inspection.  This option was not available prior to the COVID pandemic.  The supply and logistic chain have been greatly disrupted.  OEIO continues to communicate and work with trade in facilitating compliant products during the pandemic and try to mitigate unnecessary delays.

 3:25 - 3:45 pm

Food Safety Management Systems Have Proven Their Value during the Covid-19 Pandemic

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​Speaker Profile:

Jairo Romero M.Sc. Food Engineer, M.A. in Education. 

Jairo Romero has 30 years of experience assisting public and private organizations in food safety management and international trade. He is an expert on strengthening national food control systems, proficient in Food Safety Risk Management, Scientific Regulatory Affairs, and in access to international markets from the SPS perspective. Author of 4 books, 2 chapters and 45 articles, professor at Universidad de La Salle in Colombia, presenter in numerous international workshops and technical meetings around the globe. Jairo is a Fellow and Member of the Council of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology – IAFoST, Former – President of Colombian Association of Food Science and Technology – ACTA, and of the Latin America and the Caribbean Association of Food Science and Technology, ALACCTA.


     Although SARS-CoV-2 is not transmitted by foods, it’s sudden, massive irruption represents a challenge of unprecedented dimensions to the food industry and other stakeholders along the food supply chain. Three major risks are associated with the pandemic of Covid-19: risk of contagion of workers at every level in the organizations, risk of increased fraud vulnerability and risk of business continuity. With few exceptions, some mistakes made, some failures presented, could be said that the food system has been very successful managing the risks presented by this pandemic. The experience of the food industry applying GMP has been crucial to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within the staff, and existing food safety management systems have served as a platform to minimize fraud incidents and to guarantee business continuity. Nobody was really prepared for such a disruptive event, but food safety teams and task forces have had an outstanding role addressing the challenges, learning about the virus and its implications at every level, and implementing rapidly what has been learned. In addition, the pandemic has strongly focused the public interest on handwashing and the use of masks and other personal protective equipment, and today words as risk and risk prevention or responsible behavior, concepts and practices promoted for many years by food safety experts, are in the mind and mouth of almost everybody around the globe. It has been said repeatedly that pandemic of Covid-19 is changing dramatically our way of living, it is possible to think that personal protection practices is one of those areas where changes are going to be more solid and permanent and, consequently, that food safety will emerge strongly strengthened from this episode.