So far, Florida’s fresh citrus industry reportedly has fared well throughout the coronavirus crisis, with fruit in high demand and no major problems blamed on the pandemic.
Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, said consumer demand has kept packers in his region busy. “Their demand is strong from the supermarkets, the orders are up, and the packinghouses are doing their best to fill all of those orders,” Bournique said. “Because of the importance of vitamin C to the health and diet of America, the demand for Florida citrus products has been extremely strong through this very difficult time.”
“Thankfully, a reliable steady supply of fresh fruit to the marketplace is a high priority,” added Peter Chaires, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Packers. “Vitamin C has reportedly been found to be effective in boosting immune systems. Many consumers prefer to increase vitamin C naturally through dietetic intake.”
Despite media reports about the disease causing possible agricultural labor shortages for those using the federal H-2A guest worker program, Florida citrus apparently had plenty of workers this season. “There are concerns as to availability for H-2A labor, but that’s down the road,” said George Hamner, president of Indian River Exchange Packers.
Chaires added, “Most of this labor for harvesting was arranged well before the current crisis. A few did have some concerns about this, but labor has arrived, so we are business as usual so far.” Bournique reported there were some “spot shortages” of harvesting labor, but said packinghouses in his region had no labor shortages.
While many industries had to institute new cleanliness measures to prevent coronavirus spread, Chaires and Bournique pointed out that fruit packinghouses were already extremely sanitary. “Standard food-safety protocol … includes extensive hygiene requirements and training for personnel,” Chaires said. “This has had additional benefits in our current situation. That being said, operations are adding additional steps.”
Hamner said Indian River Exchange Packers is operating “under the higher sanitation policy as outlined by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)” for coping with coronavirus. His company’s new steps include allowing no outside visitors, encouraging continual handwashing and social distancing.
Although coronavirus has spread around the world, Chaires said fresh fruit packers “do not anticipate any issues in the international markets other than limited port congestion in Japan. Europe remains strong, and movement is good. All food has been deemed essential, so no delays have been felt even as the EU (European Union) closes borders. Food/fruit movement has not been hindered to date.”
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