Federal authorities have provided answers and guidelines for one of the grimmest questions raised by the pandemic — Can refrigerated trailers that have held the remains of COVID-19 victims be used again for food transport purposes?
As deaths from the COVID-19 crisis are on the rise, some health departments have had to make the unpleasant call to order refrigerated trailers to store bodies as morgues and funeral homes become overwhelmed. Just last week, the Vigo County, Indiana, Health Department announced that they had entered into a “mass fatality agreement with Great Dane Trailers for four refrigerator trucks” as the number of fatal COVID-19 cases rise. Authorities in El Paso, Texas are also using several refrigerated trailers as “mobile morgue” unit for COVID-19 victims.
EL PASO: Sobering scene outside medical examiner’s lab, where County Judge Ricardo Samaniego says mobile morgues are running out of room.
By week’s end, plans call for 10 refrigerated trailers to be in place.
“I don’t think I know anyone inside, but I’m not sure,” he tells me. pic.twitter.com/EUwweCeg3p
— Morgan Chesky (@BreakingChesky) November 10, 2020
The unusual use of refrigerated trailers for the purpose of storing bodies has left some in the trucking community questioning whether the trailers can be safely returned to use hauling produce or meat products.
Turns out, the answer in many cases is “yes.”
According to a memo issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year, “Refrigerated food transport vehicles and refrigerated food storage units used for the temporary preservation of human remains during the COVID-19 pandemic subsequently can be safely used for food transport and food storage under certain circumstances … Before returning to service to transport or store human or animal food, refrigerated food transport vehicles and refrigerated food storage units used to hold human remains during the COVID-19 pandemic should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.”
However, there are circumstances under which the FDA recommends that trailers not be returned to use in transporting food:
When there is evidence that interior surfaces were in direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, FDA recommends that refrigerated food transport vehicles and refrigerated food storage units not be returned to service for transporting or storing food for humans or animals if any one of the following conditions exist:
- There are interior surfaces made of porous unfinished wood or other materials that are not suitable for cleaning and disinfection and that cannot be removed and replaced;
- There are interior surfaces that are damaged or compromised (e.g., cracked fiberglass, exposed seams) such that they are not able to be properly cleaned and disinfected;
- There are mechanical refrigeration components located within the storage areas that cannot be cleaned in place or removed for cleaning and/or replacement;
- The unit is permeated by offensive odors that cannot be eliminated through cleaning and disinfecting.
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