Freshfel Europe, the Brussels-based association representing fresh fruit and vegetables producers, said it is working with its members to ensure supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen some countries close restaurants and other outlets to curb its spread.

“Amid the Covid-19 outbreak across Europe, the European fresh fruit and vegetable sector has increased efforts to ensure a continuous and diverse supply of safe, high quality fresh fruit and vegetables for consumers in Europe and around the world,” Freshfel, which represents the industry across the whole supply chain, including retailers, said in a statement.

“With at-home consumption increasing as the outbreak develops, ensuring consumers can maintain a healthy, balanced diet with access to fresh fruit and vegetables remains a top priority for the European fruit and vegetable sector.” 

Freshfel noted how the closure of borders by some European countries has delayed supplies but added it has taken “all possible measures” to prevent disruption.

It continued: “With the closure of restaurants and cafés in many member states, consumers are increasingly reliant on the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables in retail outlets for at-home consumption. The fresh fruit and vegetable sector is holding discussions with public authorities to guarantee a ‘fresh corridor’ to fast-track trucks transporting highly perishable fresh fruit and vegetables to guarantee timely supply. This includes securing vehicles and drivers in a timely manner in the right locations and introducing protocols to ensure trade flows.”

Freshfel said its members are taking actions to keep up supply, including isolating drivers to minimise the risk of losing key personnel essential to maintaining operations. Discussions are also taking place to ensure labour supply during the upcoming key picking season.

“Measures are being taken by all European fresh produce companies to provide the highest protection to workers in the supply chain,” the association said. “Non-essential staff are working from home, distances between essential operating staff have been increased, the highest hygiene precautions in pack-houses and wholesale markets are being taken.”

Precautions are also being taken to ensure the safety of retail workers during “heightening demand” for fresh fruit and vegetables.

“The highest levels of food safety and hygiene are being met by operators in the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain amid the Covid-19 outbreak,” Freshfel said. “While the European Food Safety Authority has stated that there is no evidence that transmission through food consumption could occur, the sector reminds consumers to follow the precautionary recommendations issued by the Who on good hygiene practices during any food handling and preparation.”