Can COVID ‘mobile morgues’ be used as trailers again?

November 18, 2020

Land Line Staff


Refrigerated trailers have been used as temporary morgues as officials struggle to deal with deaths from the coronavirus. Several news sources recently have reported on El Paso County, Texas, using 10 “mobile morgues.” Both Business Insider and CNN carried the story, among others.

In April, New Jersey was resorting to similar measures.

From these extreme measures, a question arises: Can the reefers be used for transporting food again after being used as temporary morgues?

The Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance on the issue. The answer is a qualified “yes.”

Refrigerated trailers and food storage units used to hold human remains during the COVID-19 pandemic must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before returning to normal service. The floors, walls, ceilings and other hard, nonporous surfaces on the interiors of refrigerated food transport vehicles and refrigerated food storage units are generally designed to be easily cleaned, according to the FDA guidance.

There are Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants that should be used. Some surfaces may require repeat applications to ensure treatment for the required contact time, FDA warns. Also, because some disinfectants may not be effective at refrigeration temperatures, interiors may need to be brought to the appropriate temperature before disinfection.

Not all trailers can be returned to normal service, however, including those with 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.

Likewise with trailers with damaged fiberglass or exposed seams that cannot be properly cleaned and disinfected or if mechanical refrigeration components inside the trailer cannot be cleaned in place or removed for cleaning or replacement.

Lastly, if offensive odors permeate the trailer and cannot be eliminated through cleaning and disinfecting, the trailer cannot be returned to normal food transportation service.

FDA also warns that Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements must be followed to protect workers who clean and disinfect the mobile morgue trailers. LL

Check Land Line’s coronavirus resource page for updates on state and federal orders.