COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

For the food industry

  • Daily Updates

  • Advice for Food Industry

  • What can you (we) all do?

 
 

The World Health Organization has put together a short video explaining COVID-19. 

COVID-19 is also known as SARS-CoV-2. The virus of the current outbreak is most closely related (genetically) to the SARS virus from 2003. 

 

Viruses and their respective diseases often have different names. The World Health Organization has provided proper nomenclature.

  • The virus that is responsible for the current outbreak is SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2).

  • The name of the disease that it causes is COVID-19 (coronavirus disease).

 
 

Updated March 12, 2020 

Short Answer: There are many similarities and differences between COVID-19 and influenza "the flu". 

 

The WHO discusses some similarities and differences between COVID-19 and influenza (“the flu”) patients.

  • Initial data suggests that children are less affected by COVID-19 than adults; in fact, children may be infected more frequently from adults. This is opposite of influenza in which children contribute greatly to the flu’s community transmission.

  • Current data on COVID-19 suggest that “80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic”; 20% are sever or critical infections (requiring oxygen and ventilation).

  • Individuals of older age or underlying health conditions have an increased risk for severe COVID-19 infection. When thinking about work and travel recommendations, it is important for employers to consider their employees and their families.

  • As both COVID-19 and influenza are transmitted by contact, droplets (respiratory), and fomites (objects), practice good hand hygiene and good respiratory etiquette.

  • The current calculated reproductive number – the number of infections resulting from one infected individual – is around 2 – 2.5. This means that for every person infected, they can infect up to two (2) others. However, this number will evolve as we learn more.

 

Updated March 19, 2020 

​Short Answer: No. 

​SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory illness. It is not transmitted via food. It is not spread through food. It is spread primarily through person-to-person contact. Practice social distancing: avoid large groups or gatherings and maintain a 6 feet (2 meter) distance from people.

 

Updated March 02, 2020 

​Short Answer: Depending on surface type, up to 9 days. 

  • While there are currently no COVID-19 specific studies for survivability on surfaces; studies have been conducted on similar coronaviruses that infect both humans and other animals. Kampf et al.'s (2020) review found that human-specific coronaviruses can remain infectious on surfaces between 2 hours to 9 days (at room temperature).

  • Different materials and different temperatures can affect survivability and persistence of the virus.

  • Coronaviruses' ability to survive begins to decrease above 30°C.

  • Newer studies have come out discussing this which we will elaborate on. (Update)

 

Updated March 02, 2020 

Short Answer: Survive with heating? Depends. Survive with freezing? Likely. 

As Wolff states, "We are not aware of any published information on the survival of coronaviruses in food. Recent studies have shown SARS-CoV to survive in water to a very limited degree. There is no evidence to suggest the spread of coronaviruses through food or water."

 

We don't currently have much information regarding how freezing and heating may affect the SARS-Cov-2 virus (the virus that causes Covid-19).  We do know that from studies of the SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2003 that heat can inactivate the virus:

 

  • Various references mention full inactivation of the SARS virus at 56C (133F) between 15 and 30 minutes.  The same study that mentions 30 minutes inactivation also determined a positive correlation between time and temperature and found that the SARS virus was inactivated in 10 minutes at 68C (154.5F). 

 

Freezing is a common method of preserving viruses in a laboratory setting and evidence from the WHO found the SARS virus can survive more than 21 days at 4C (39F) and –80C (-112F).

 

Therefore freezing is unlikely to inactivate the virus.  When considering how the virus might survive in frozen foods, one needs to consider how food could potentially be contaminated in a food processing environment with the likelihood of direct contamination of food being very low.

 

Updated March 07, 2020 

Short Answer: 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution or >70% alcohol. Please also see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) List of Disinfectants to Use Against COVID-19. 

When choosing disinfectants, Kampf et al's (2020) review, has found that coronaviruses (in general) can be effectively inactivated in the following through methods: 

  • 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution (for 1 minute)

  • 0.5 % hydrogen peroxide (for 1 minute)

  • 62 - 71% ethanol (for 1 minute) 

The U.S. EPA has put out a list of Antimicrobial Products for Use Against Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. When purchasing products, please check the product's EPA Registration Number (EPA Reg. No.) against the products included on the list. This will be the first two sets of numbers.  

  • "Alternative brand names have the same EPA Reg. No. as the primary product. The EPA Reg. No. of a primary product consists of two set[s] of numbers separated by a hyphen. For example EPA Reg. No. 12345-12.

    • The first set of numbers [12345] refers to the company identification number

    • And the second set of numbers [12] following the hyphen represents the product number."

 

  • Different distributors often also sell the same product with identical formulations and identical efficacy as the primary products. Even with different brand names, you can ensure the product you've chosen is the right product by checking the three-part EPA Reg. No. "For example, EPA Reg. No. 12345-12-2567 is a distributor product with an identical formulation and efficacy to the primary product with the EPA Reg. No. 12345- 12". 

    • The first two parts of the EPA Reg. No. match the primary product,

    • While the third set of numbers will indicate the Distributor ID.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discuss What You Need to Know About Handwashing.

 

COVID-19 is easily spread across mucosal membranes through respiratory droplets, direct contact, and on objects (fomites). Properly washing one’s hands is THE most important preventative control! Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth. Please consider creating and maintaining social distancing (avoiding unnecessary contact or close proximity to others) and practice good respiratory etiquette (coughing into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately disposing of the tissue). 

 

Updated March 12, 2020 

As COVID-19 community transmission continues, some of the top questions that TAG has received has been defining: What is “close contact”? What is “social distancing”? And what do they mean in my workplace?

 

While there are variations in what is considered close contact, six feet (two meters) is the generally agreed upon distance at which one is considered “close” and should maintain “social distance.” Additionally, it may take up to 14 days between contact and onset of illness. Following are some definitions from US and EU federal agencies and academic centers to frame these terms and their applications into perspective.

 

Social Distancing. As defined by The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), social distancing is “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible.”

 

As it relates to COVID-19, social distancing is considered “the most effective tool” for stopping or slowing the spread of an outbreak. Because COVID-19 can be spread simply through breathing in the respiration of an infected person within close proximity, social distancing is both highly encouraged and advised. Therefore, it is best to avoid settings with large numbers of people (e.g., conferences, open-work office spaces, concerts, events) and maintain a distance of six feet or greater from others whenever possible.

Current data supports the efficacy of a 2-week (14-day) quarantine for individuals that have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 and are not themselves symptomatic. 

 

Close Contact. The CDC defines a  “close contact” as a person who has been within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time. This may include time spent while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a healthcare waiting area or room with a COVID-19 case. “Close contact” also includes a person’s direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed on).

 

Additionally, the CDC defines risk categories for exposures associated with travel or contact. These include:

 

High Risk

  • Travel from Hubei Province, China   

  • Living in the same household as, being an intimate partner of, or providing care in a nonhealthcare setting (such as a home) for a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection without using recommended precautions for home care and home isolation

Medium Risk (assumes no exposures in the high-risk category)

  • Travel from Iran, mainland China (outside Hubei Province), a country with widespread sustained transmission, or country with sustained community transmission

  • Close contact with a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19; seated within 6 feet (approx. two seats in each direction) of a traveler with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection; Living in the same household as, an intimate partner of, or caring for a person in a nonhealthcare setting (such as a home) to a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection while consistently using recommended precautions for home care and home isolation

Low Risk (assumes no exposures in the high-risk category)

  • Travel from any other country

  • Being in the same indoor environment (e.g., a classroom, a hospital waiting room) as a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 for a prolonged time but NOT in close contact

 

No identifiable risk

  • Interactions with a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection that do not meet any of the high-, medium- or low-risk conditions above, such as walking by the person or being briefly in the same room.

 

Europe. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) defines a “COVID-19 contact” as a person not currently presenting symptoms, who has, or may have been, in contact with a COVID-19 case. TheECDC defines these as close contacts (adapted from the WHO definition) or casual contacts; the associated risk of infection is based on that definition.

  • Close Contacts (high-risk) are defined as those who: live in the same household; have direct physical contact (e.g. shaking hands); have unprotected direct contact with infectious secretions (e.g., coughed on, touched used tissues, etc.); or have face-to-face contact within 2 meters (6 feet) for more than 15 minutes with a COVID-19 case. “Close contacts” are also those who are in a closed environment (e.g., classroom, meeting room, hospital waiting room, etc.) for 15 minutes or more and at a distance of less than 2 meters; who provide direct care or handle specimens from a COVID-19 case without PPE; and those who sit within two seats (in any direction) in an airplane of a COVID-19 case, are travel companions or persons providing care, or are crew members serving in the section of the aircraft where the index case was seated. (Severity of symptoms or movement of the case could cause more extensive exposure.)

  • Casual Contacts (low risk) are defined as those who: were in a closed environment or had face-to-face contact with a COVID-19 case for less than 15 minutes or at a distance of more than 2 meters; and those who travel with a COVID-19 case in any kind of conveyance, although longer duration increases the risk and may differ based on individual risk assessments.

 

While these definitions provide some direction for businesses, the last phrase of the last bullet above is critical; all cases “may differ based on individual risk assessments.”.

Guidance for Employees and Businesses
 

Updated March 12,  2020 

In addition to implementing “time-off” and handwashing policies, companies are also applying some novel ideas to help limit the potential spread of COVID-19. You may want to consider similar policies as applicable for your business.

  • Increasing sanitation frequency can provide further protection. This includes regularly cleaning the front of the house/non-food processing areas on the same schedule that of standard food areas. Cleaning and sanitizing should include sanitizing frequently touched surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, countertops, tabletops, screens, etc.), sweeping floors, and emptying trash.

  • In China, companies implemented a policy of mandatory employee health assessments and/or temperature checks both prior to each shift worked and at timed intervals during the work hours. Such practice could be applicable in some high-risk businesses or areas with community transmission, however unless a pandemic has been declared in your area by CDC or your local health department, it may not be legal under EEOC.

  • Across the U.S., many Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs), foodservice providers, and retailers are forbidding/banning the use of customer-provided reusable cups. Additionally, an increasing number of businesses are even removing self-serve items (e.g., fruit, plastic utensils, cups, etc.) away from customer-accessible areas.

  • While some non-food service providers (cashiers, airline ticket handlers, etc.) are donning gloves for protection, other providers are recommending against putting on gloves. Putting on gloves may give wearer’s a false sense of security and encourage bad behavior; the wearer may be less careful and mindful about where and what their hands touch.

  • People handling packages should wash and/or sanitize their hands, frequently. If gloves are used, ensure that proper glove usage is taught, and gloves are properly used.

  • Multi-unit businesses can decrease potential COVID-19 spread by maintaining separation between locations and minimizing movement between sites by associates.

 

Updated: March 20, 2020

Please feel free to use this image for posters or signs to be posted in your business. If you would like the original file, please contact us via email. (Print in landscape mode)

 
Protecting Employee Health

Updated March 07, 2020 

As COVID-19 continues to spread, businesses are attempting to make decisions on employee illness procedures and screening. What should you be telling employees? Should you be asking the same questions of visitors to your facility?  What should you be asking to determine if further coronavirus testing should be considered?

It is important to begin considering ways of protecting your employee, your assets, and your company. Most importantly, clear, succint, and timely communication with your employees will help eliminate confusion and chaos. 

 
 

Updated March 13,  2020 

Short Answer: Employees should not be at work if they are feeling sick. 

To minimize spread, employee communication should include: 

  • Calling into work if employee is feeling sick. Do not show up onsite if you are not feeling well. If you are in an area with widespread community transmission, please stay at home and call in if: (a) you have even a mild cough or low-grade fever (99 F or more) or (b) if you have had to take simple medications for symptoms (e.g., paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin) which may mask symptoms of infection

  • Notifying supervisor if employee starts feeling sick at work. If employee begins to feel sick at work: 

    • Isolate the employee, then send them home. Instruct employee to CALL (not visit) their healthcare provider. If the employee is feeling ill, they should minimize contact/interaction with other individuals. 

    • Clean and sanitize employee’s work area with alcohol, bleach, or another coronavirus approved sanitizer.

    • IF the employee has traveled from an area where COVID-19 has widespread community transmission (in the US or internationally) within the last 14 days OR has come in contact with a suspected or known COVID-19 case, immediately contact the local health department.  The local health department may have further guidance for how to handle potential employee exposures.

  • An employee who has been sick but has not had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, should not return to work until they are free of fever, signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines. 

  • An employee who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 (confirmed case), should not return to work until they are cleared by a healthcare provider. 

 

Updated March 19, 2020 

Short Answer: Conduct a Wellness Screen with Employees (see questions to ask below) 

As the outbreak continues to expand, it is imperative that employers continue to check in with employees on their health. Additionally, it is important to remind the workforce that COVID-19 is easily spread through respiratory droplets. Proper washing of one’s hands is the most important preventive control. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth.

General Screening Questions:

  • What is your name?

  • In the last 24 hours, have you experienced or had any of the symptoms?

    • Fever?

    • Cough?

    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath?

  • Have you traveled within the last 14 days to a high-risk area (widespread community transmission)?

  • In the last 14 days, have you been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19?

  • If "yes", please explain: When did travel or exposure happen?  i

If an employee has traveled to a high-risk area or has had COVID-19 exposure, they should be excluded from work. Please refer to TAG's COVID-19 Employee Illness Risk Assessment and Decision-Making guide. If a determination regarding high-risk areas of travel is needed, please contact us, as needed. 

 

Additionally, please remind your employees:

  • Remember the virus is spread from touching mucous membranes; please avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.

  • Remember to wash your hands every [insert time based on company policy] minutes! 

 

Questions to ask employees who call in or get sick at work:

  1. When did your illness begin?

  2. Have you come in contact with anyone with a suspected or known COVID-19 case?

  3. Have you traveled to any area that has widespread community transmission (in the US or internationally) within the last 14 days?

  4. With whom, in the company, have you personally interacted? (You will need to inform these individuals of the potential for infection)

  5. What areas of the workplace have you been in, besides your work area? (This enables you to determine areas that may need to be sanitized.)

  6. Are you able to work from home for the next two weeks?

    1.  If yes, what do you need to do so? (This will determine if employer will need to fill role or provide any equipment)

    2. If no, what duties, projects, etc. need to be covered in your absence?

  7. Do you have any upcoming travel we need to address or cancel?

 

Updated March 20, 2020 

If an employee has any of the symptoms listed above (i.e. fever, cough, difficulty breathing and/or shortness of breath), please ask them the following: 

  • Have you consulted a medical professional (e.g. doctor)? 

  • Have you been tested for COVID-19? 

  • Do you have your results yet? 

    • If so, was it positive or negative? ​​

Determine the employee's work schedule for at least the 24 hours prior to illness onset and up to 14 days. This information can be used to determine who else was working at the same time as the employee. It will also allow you to identify close contacts.

Identify which employees or customers had "close contact" with this employee while working. 

  • “Close contact” means a person worked within 6 feet of that person for more than 15 minutes at a time.  E.g., Passing by each other throughout the day would not constitute close contact. Working next to someone else for an extended period of time would. 

  • Have any other employees experienced fever or cough in the last 14 days? 

 

Updated March 19, 2020 

Not only should employees avoid work when ill; they must be excluded if they have a fever. During a pandemic, employers may ask employees if the employee is experiencing any symptoms (e.g. fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat). If employees become ill with COVID-19 symptoms, they should leave the workplace. In an effort to protect employees and customers, below are some things to consider if you decide to screen for employee temperature:

  • Temperature screening should still be done in conjunction with employee screening questions provided in the Toolkit. Do not rely solely on temperature screening to indicate illness.

  • Only use thermometers designed to collect human temperatures.  (e.g. Do not use an IR thermometer that would be used in a food manufacturing facility since they will not be as accurate).

  • According to the Oxford Health National Health Service Foundation Trust, research into the accuracy, of non-contact infrared thermometers (NCITs) is mixed; however, results are both rapid and non-invasive.

    • NCITs are medical devices. Improper usage of NCITs may return inaccurate results.

  • Consider PPE for the individual taking temperature measurements. PPE is important for those measuring temperatures as they will be within 6 feet of person they are screening.

  • Consider the cut-off temperature to be used to send someone home. The CDC defines a fever temperature as 100.4°F.

  • Consider if you will record this information. An employee’s body temperature is considered medical information and should be thusly handled (I.e. information is confidential and must be in compliance with the ADA).

Please remember that information obtained about employee health is considered confidential medical information and should be handled in compliance with ADA guidelines. In the United States, for more information, please see the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission FAQ relevant to COVID-19 (link).

 

Updated March 07, 2020 

As cases of illness continue to be identified internationally and in the US, it is possible you may have an employee that reports having had contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Based on the current guidance from the CDC, if you become aware that an employee has had contact with someone (or is living with anyone) who has been diagnosed with or may have COVID-19, please consider the following:

  • If the employee is at work, please ask them to leave work and return home immediately. Immediately call the local or state health department for further guidance and to determine the next steps. 

  • You can clean and sanitize the employee's immediate work area by wiping spaces down with either: (a) 70% alcohol; (b) a 0.1% bleach solution; or (c) disinfecting wipes that indicate effectiveness against human coronaviruses (on label). Gloves and protective gown should be worn when wiping down surfaces. 

  • If the employee is not at work, please tell them to go home immediately or to stay at home. Contact the local or state health department for further guidance.  

  • If the employee is living with individual(s) sick with COVID-19, please have the employee notifying their supervisor.

 

Refer to CDC’s guidance on how to conduct a risk assessment.

More detailed cleaning and sanitizing recommendations from the CDC can be accessed here. ​

 

Updated March 02, 2020 

For employee: 

  • Immediately inform your supervisor. Go or stay at home. Call your doctor or healthcare provider if experiencing sickness with a fever and a cough.

  • Do not come to work if you're feeling sick. Do call your doctor or healthcare provider. 

For companies:

  • If an employee reports that they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, immediately contact the local or state health department for guidance about workforce exposure management. 

For frontline supervisors: ​

  • Ask employees when they report to work how they are feeling or if they know anyone who is not feeling well or has been diagnosed with COVID-19

  • Check-in with employees throughout the shift (once every 3 - 4 hours), about their health.

  • Encourage employees to not come to work if they are feeling unwell. 

 

Updated March 07,  2020 

Employers should consider how to manage absenteeism within your workforce.  Employers may want to identify shift backups ahead of time in case someone is unable to come to work because they’re ill or need to care for a sick family member.

 

Updated March 19, 2020 

Short Answer: Conduct a Visitor Screening Assessment to determine visitor health. 

 

TAG's recommendations for protecting employees during the COVID-19 outbreak can also be applied to visitors as well. Please consider screening visitors to your facility as well! Following are those and other recommendations for managing visitors to your workplace. The following should also apply to suppliers and delivery drivers, with shipping area access eliminated or a limited area set that has no access to the plant.

Companies may also want to consider asking visitors to the facility if they have any flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath). Additionally, companies should also consider asking similar initial screening questions (as for employees and workforce), above. 

Consider distributing an email, or other communication, to regular visitors, suppliers, and delivery companies with explaining your COVID-19 outbreak policy and asking that no persons enter your building if they are ill, have come in contact with a person with known or suspect COVID-19, or traveled, in the last 14 days, to an area with widespread community transmission. If the visitor(s) have recently traveled in an area where of widespread COVID-19 community transmission, you may consider asking the visitor to reschedule their visit for at least 14 days from the date they last traveled from the affected area.

If your facility does not already have a specific door for visitors, consider designating a single visitor entrance, and placing a sign on or near the door asking that the visitor call (provide phone #) if they:

  • Have or have had a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

  • Have come in contact with anyone with a suspected or known COVID-19 case.

  • Within the last 14 days, have they traveled to any high-risk areas (widespread community transmission) or have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19?

 

If you have a speaker intercom, consider placing a sign near it briefly stating your outbreak policy and listing four questions they will be asked upon buzzing the intercom, with entrance allowed or disallowed based on response:

  1. Do you feel ill or have a fever, cough or shortness of breath?

  2. Have you had a fever, a cough or shortness of breath in the last week?

  3. Have you come in contact with anyone with a suspected or known COVID-19 case?

  4. Have you traveled to any area that has widespread community transmission or been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the last 14 days?

 

If you don’t have an intercom, visitors should be immediately informed upon arrival that you have implemented precautionary procedures for your employees’ and all visitors’ protection, and that those procedures include asking illness-related questions and allowing or disallowing entrance based on their response.

If the visitor answers “yes” to any of the questions in the above scenarios, they should be excluded from entering the office or facility. 

 

Updated March 19,  2020 

The workplace recommendations for employees to stay home when sick and wash their hands have been repeated in various publications. While nearly all COVID-19 communications recommend that employees stay home – or go home – when they are sick with fever, cough, or shortness of breath, there is little available information on managing both time away from the office and the employee’s return to work. Following are some best practices from companies who have planned and developed policies:

 

Travel. If your company is instituting or has instituted a policy eliminating non-essential travel, your management team will need to make decisions on previously arranged travel. Employees must understand the policy as it applies to travel that may have already been booked. Additionally, employees should discuss with their manager what travel is considered business-critical, and if travel should proceed or be canceled.

For travelers, the CDC ranks travel risk into three categories of health notices:

  • Warning – Level 3 Health Notice. Avoid non-essential travel. Areas currently under a Level 3 Health Notice are those in which the CDC recommends that all non-essential travel be avoided (with entry of foreign nationals having been suspended ). Additionally, for those traveling from a Level 3 Health Notice area should, “stay home for 14 days after returning to the United States and practice social distancing.” If individuals “are sick with fever, cough, or have trouble breathing should call ahead before seeking medical care.” 

  • Alert – Level 2 Health Notice. Practice enhanced precautions. The CDC recommends, “Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.” Additionally, “Travelers should watch their health during travel and for 14 days after returning to the United States.”

  • Watch – Level 1 Health Notice. Practice usual precautions. Travelers to Level 1 Health Notice areas should “avoid contact with sick people and clean their hands often by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%–95% alcohol.”

 

Non-business travel. Some employees who have had vacation travel (or even non-essential business travel) booked to high risk areas may choose to proceed with that travel. Employers must consider policies and contingency plans for assigning extra time off policies should the employee be further detained.

For example, anyone returning for a “Warning Level 3” area is likely, on re-entry to the US, to be detained and potentially screened for the virus, then self-isolated at home for 14 days. If that employee cannot work from home during that time, the employer needs to consider how it will manage paid or unpaid leave.  The employer should also consider how to manage employees returning from “Warning Level 2” countries and may ask these employees to work from home for two weeks after return (if possible). 

Looking ahead, these questions and more (depending on your operations) will need to be discussed and a policy determined between your management team.

 

Employee had been ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but has not been tested or has tested negative. The current CDC recommendation is that employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants).

 

Employee has tested positive for COVID-19. If an employee is medically diagnosed with COVID-19, they should be told to remain at home and self-isolate. Current CDC guidance for when it is OK to release someone from isolation is made on a case by case basis and includes meeting all of the following requirements:

  • The patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

  • The patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough.

  • The patient has tested negative on at least two consecutive respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.

Someone who has been released from isolation is not considered to pose a risk of infection to others.

​​

Return from time off. When an employee returns to work (including returning from vacation, personal leave, or sick leave) they should discuss with their manager(s) the reason for the time off, including if for ailment/cause of their or family member’s sickness (if applicable). For “non-sick” leave, employers should ask employees about their areas of travel, potential for contact with infected persons, etc. Some companies have instituted sickness return forms which require both employee and manager/human resources signatures before employee can return to work. A form is encouraged as it provides a traceable document for record-keeping.

To Note: ​Return to work policies should be communicated to your employees, please also remind them to: (a) report diagnosis to their manager; (b) communicate the diagnosis to any others with whom they may have come in contact.

 

Updated March 19, 2020 ​

Businesses across the country are doing it, the CDC is recommending it, and Congress has proposed bills to require it. Today, we are focusing on sick leave. Have you extended your sick leave policy to those not previously covered? Should you be?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of low-wage workers do not receive paid sick leave. Without benefits, many workers will continue working while sick, because they can't afford to. While enough danger normally arises from ill workers potentially contaminating foods and otherwise transmitting viruses, gastrointestinal viruses, and other illnesses, the risk of infection rises significantly during a global pandemic – like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In the CDC's Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, employers are recommended to ensure that their sick-leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance. Policies may include permitting employees to stay home to care for a sick family member and not requiring a healthcare provider's note to validate a worker's illness or return to work.

In response to the extensive and fast spread of COVID-19, many businesses have extended their sick leave benefits, including:

  • Walmart. Following the news that a worker tested positive for COVID-19, Walmart issued a "COVID-19 emergency leave policy" which provides two weeks of sick pay for quarantined facilities or associates, and for those who contract the virus, with additional compensation for up to 26 weeks, if required. Additionally, the retailer is suspending its attendance policy to enable individuals who feel unable or uncomfortable with working on using their paid-time-off benefits.

  • Darden Restaurants. At Darden Restaurants, hourly workers can accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 worked.

  • McDonald’s. McDonalds' is providing up to two weeks paid sick leave for quarantined employees of its corporate-owned stores.

  • Instacart. Instacart introduced a policy by which its part-time in-store shoppers can accrue sick pay based on hours worked in 2020. 

If those examples aren’t enough to have you considering extending sick leave policies, you might not even have a choice, soon. In early March, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced bills that would immediately mandate employers provide workers with 14 days of paid sick leave to be used during a public health emergency (including in the current crisis). Additionally, outside of public health emergencies, the legislation builds off the previous Murray, DeLauro Healthy Families Act, requiring employers to provide seven (7) days of accrued sick leave.

Pending the passage of such legislation, businesses should review their sick-leave policies and determine the best path forward. While it can be costly to pay a worker to stay home for two weeks, it can be significantly more expensive not to. Not only are you risking the health of your customers (particularly if your employees work with food); but, a sick worker can transmit the virus to other workers, leading to even higher absenteeism. Additionally, depending on the level of interaction a COVID-19 diagnosed employee has had with coworkers, public health authorities may order your business to be closed.  Even if you are not providing sick pay, an absent worker will likely need to be replaced, potentially with a higher-cost temp worker or resulting in overtime for other hourly workers.  When considering sick-leave policy changes, consider how the policy can incentivize workers who are sick to stay home NOW when the risk of COVID-19 transmission is increasing in the US. Finally, if an outbreak were traced back to you, consider the negative impacts on your business, including potential business closure, recalled food, and a possible legal battle.

TAG has been working with businesses to help them deal with the current crises. Find out more about our COVID-19 Retainer Package, we can assess your policies and make recommendations specific to COVID-19.

 

Updated March 12, 2020 ​

As COVID-19 widespread transmission continues, employers are confronting the dire questions of best methods of decreasing its spread and lessening potential workplace impact. Since the best preparation is before action is required; the State of Washington’s Department of Health (DOH) has provided guidance for preparation and considerations for decision-making.

  1. Firstly, identify your objectives, including reducing worker transmission, protecting those at higher risk for adverse health complications, maintaining business operations, and/or minimizing effects on the supply chain.

  2. In making the related decisions, consider the extent of the outbreak in your area: stay up-to-date on guidance from your local health officials, and understand the potential impact on workers at higher risk for adverse health complications (i.e. older adults and those with pre-existing or chronic medical conditions).

  3. To prepare for the potential number of increased absences of both employee and employee’s household members resulting from illness and even school closure impacts on parents, you should assess your essential functions and customer/community reliance on your services or products to:

  • Develop plans for the continuance of essential business functions.

  • Cross-train various personnel on essential functions.

  • Identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, determine if some operations could be temporarily suspended.

Washington’s DOH also encourages multi-site businesses to give authority to local managers to take appropriate actions based on their site and your business infectious disease outbreak response plan. (If you don’t have a response plan, now is the time to develop it – Find out more about TAG’s COVID-19 Retainer Package!

Setting Up Space
 
 

Updated March 19,  2020 

The city of New York is urging residents to work from home; Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all encouraging Seattle employees to work from home, Twitter has mandated home office for its global workforce. Universities across the country and the world have canceled sports, events, and gatherings, and moved classes online. With increasing concern and precautions, whenever possible, companies are encouraging their workforce to work from are. Is your company ready? How will your IT systems securely handle the load?

 

Best practices of leading companies have demonstrated the importance of testing your system before having to implement remote work plans. A pre-test ensures your capabilities and lessons potential impacts. Following are some recommendations and considerations as your workforce moves remotely:

 

Policies

  • Develop a remote-work policy (if you don’t already have one). Include information on items that may be taken home, by whom, and what must remain onsite. Communicate this policy to all employees.

  • Determine guidelines for working hours, including if and how you will monitor/track employee work.

  • Develop a “How To” document on remote working with guidance, FAQs, helpdesk contacts, etc. Ensure all potential work-from-home employees, particularly those who have not previously done so, review the document before implementing it.

 

IT Capabilities

  • Bring your IT team into the loop before implementing work-from-home policies. Discuss current and needed capabilities, equipment, and test runs.

  • Once you are system capable, ask that those with laptops take them home each night (along with any other items and information sources needed). This will decrease disruptions and potential risk if individuals become ill and must self-isolate.

  • To test your system, consider implementing a day in which all potential work-from-home employees will work from home. Ask them all to log in at their regular start times and work their regular shifts. A dry-run test will enable you to assess your technological capabilities before actual implementation

 

Worker knowledge/equipment

  • Consider holding a training session with potential work-from-home employees to provide policies, test their equipment, and ensure they understand where and how to access and save needed files. This session will also enable first-hand determination of any required equipment.

  • To fully assess your IT personnel capabilities, employees should also send helpdesk tickets on any issues or questions.

 

Security

  • Some employees (particularly those with children at home or slower internet connections) may choose to work in a public place. To safeguard company information, require access through a VPN, ensure all devices incorporate full disk encryption, and require login credentials.

  • Remind staff to never leave computers unattended in public, and to only use computers for authorized company business.

  • Ensure all computers have automated security software and IT personnel and/or management have visibility/access to all computers both for the company’s protection and to provide IT assistance to workers, should support be needed.

 

This list should provide basic considerations to build upon as you get going on the road to remote working. It is essential to consider your specific business, its needs, and your employees’ needs.  

Other Logistics: Travel, Current Status
 
 

Updated March 19, 2020 

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. 

An increasing number of food and beverage companies (including Nestle, Unilever, Cargill, Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.) have put a hold on employee travel for non-essential purposes. While the World Health Organization is not advising travel bans, companies are taking a proactive approach to protecting their employees, protecting assets, and helping limit potential spread.  Although the time limit for the travel bans vary (between two weeks and onwards), companies should consider mechanisms/protocol for restricting domestic and international travel as community transmissions continue.

Travel to places of wide-spread community transmission (or “high risk” areas) should be minimized and/or avoided. Regions that have declared a state of emergency would be considered high-risk areas.

For International Travel

The CDC has recommended travelers avoid all nonessential travel to the following destinations (China, Iran, most European countries, United Kingdom & Ireland). Additionally, foreign nationals who have been in one of these countries during the previous 14 days will not be allowed to enter the U.S. The CDC further recommends travelers avoid nonessential travel to Malaysia and South Korea. 

U.S. Domestic Travel

COVID-19 cases have now reached widespread transmission levels in the United States. The majority of states and territories have declared a state of emergency. The CDC is recommending that Americans self-isolate and practice "social distancing". Places, where case numbers are high, have also instilled "shelter in place" orders in which people should not leave the house unless they are acquiring essentials (e.g. food or medicine). Although there are currently no travel advisories or restrictions in place within the United States, employers should consider their employees’ personal health considerations and the necessity for travel.

Employers can use these online sites to track the most recent information about cases in the US:

When developing travel recommendations, employers should consider the geographic location of the company and its assets, the ages and health profiles of employees, the reasons for/necessity of the potential travel; and any other company- or employee-specific factors that could be of impact.

If employees are returning from international travel (or if they are in frequent contact with individuals who have returned from high-risk areas), employees should be advised and encouraged to work from home for two weeks. This is applicable to any individual, regardless of symptom presentation.

If you will be traveling:

  • Avoid contact with sick individuals

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, as the virus is easily transmitted through droplets and mucous membranes.

  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water (at least 20 seconds) or use an alcohol-based sanitizer containing 60 – 95% alcohol.

In order to "flatten the curve", it is imperative to view and manage personal risk based on individual factors. When considering your personal health situation, you may determine that travel should be postponed. Another consideration is for immune-compromised family or household members; you do not want to bring the virus into your home environment and inadvertently expose high-risk family members. 

 

As such, the use of technology tools like video conferencing or conference calls may be appropriate.   

 

Updated March 07, 2020 

The declaration of a “state of emergency” for U.S. states and regions provides local, state, and/or federal governments with the power and ability to use and mobilize all necessary levels governmental institutions to manage and mitigate the outbreak. This may include providing financial assistance, preventing price gouging of products (i.e. hand sanitizer and disinfectant), coordinating outbreak response, and providing preparation guidance.

Five (5) states in the US (California, Florida, Maryland, New York, and Washington) have declared a state of emergency.

Please see the CDC’s Travel Recommendations for travel guidance.

Updated March 19, 2020 

It is critical that businesses across the U.S., especially those with multiple locations, stay current on their and other states’ COVID-19 responses and actions. As such, TAG will continue to provide daily updates, information, and resources to keep you informed and informed.

 

While the federal government is leading the national response, state and local health departments are at the front lines of making daily decisions for their citizens. Here are two essential resources to keep you updated on the latest actions of your state:

 

NCSL explains that state health officials are continuing to work with the CDC, federal authorities, and other health agencies to ensure a collaborative response. State lawmakers may direct constituents to local, state, and federal health resources to keep citizens informed. Meanwhile, several states are taking legislative action to mitigate the effects of an outbreak.

Over half of states (and D.C.) have introduced legislation supporting state actions related to COVID-19. Supported efforts include resolutions to encourage certain positive practices and bills that include funding, workforce protections or medical coverage, disease surveillance, isolation, and quarantine or other related actions taken by governors in a state of emergency. Many states have enacted or adopted these legislations.

 

Additional information is available from NCSL on the State Fiscal Responses to CoronavirusPublic Education Response; and public health and elections.

 
 

Updated March 19, 2020 

As coronavirus cases increase, third party cleaning companies may be faced with difficulties in cleaning a variety of businesses and may even refuse to undertake the work if there is a positive case.

Thus, to remain operational, it is imperative that your business has a cleaning/sanitizing protocol (conducted in-house by in-house employees) ready to go if you need it. You know your business best and will be best able to accommodate for any irregularities that may be missed by third-party companies. For information on disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, please refer to the EPA.

 

Contact TAG for support on how to build an internal cleaning and sanitation plan.

 

Updated March 19, 2020 

To provide information and advice to TAG clients and food manufacturers who are wondering about their GFSI status in light of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, we have gathered current responses from the main GFSI standard owners. GFSI has set contingencies in a measure to continue or establish certification, while still conforming to government recommendations to “flatten the curve” of this highly contagious virus. In full support of the approach, TAG also can assist with the preparation or review of internal assessments that would be submitted to Certification Bodies (CB) under these alternative arrangements.

 

SQF. SQFI has circulated communication to Certification Bodies and food manufacturing sites for the extension of certification deadlines. Following is a key paragraph from the communication provided by Robert Garfield, Senior VP and Chief Food Safety Assessment Officer, SQFI. The communication is dated March 6, 2020: “SQF has in place a means to defer certification due to extenuating circumstances. We have used this system most recently for the Australian bushfires and for individual extension requests, such as floods and facility fires.  All requests for certificate extension must come from the CB and at this time, SQF is only reviewing requests that are within 30 days of the certification audit date.”

 

BRC. In order to reduce stress on sites during the COVID-19 pandemic, BRCGS has removed the self-assessment and remote audit element from the certificate extension process.  BRCGS will now allow the extension of certificate dates of sites currently operating to one of it standards up to a period of 6 months. This would only apply to suppliers that currently have restricted onsite access. In line with GFSI, this extension will be based on a risk assessment by the site’s current certification body and will be validated and verified through the exchange of relevant documents and an interview process (see brcgs.com for full details). Once the site becomes accessible, the full onsite audit will take place as normal and a new certificate will be issued for a further 12 months.

FSSC. FSSC22000 is granting an exception in the case of the coronavirus where this is preventing CBs from traveling to organizations in affected areas/countries. In all cases, the CB shall have documented procedures, undertake specified actions, and keep records of specified activities as required under FSSC 22000 Scheme version 5, section 5.10 of Part 3 Requirements for the Certification Process. (For more information on this, visit the FSSC page.)

 

IFS. No changes.

 

Updated March 19, 2020 

The food and agriculture sectors are critical to the continuity of infrastructure. Reach out to your departments of emergency management or other relevant agencies for further information:

Additionally, if you are experiencing issues regarding our supply chain, delivery of goods, or business continuity (e.g. having problems with transportation, moving food, or moving supplies through quarantine areas), you may consider contacting FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center (nbeoc@fema.dhs.gov). FEMA’s NBEOC is a 24/7 operation that can assist in directing your questions to the proper contact

For Retail, Restaurants, Public Food Facilities 
 
 

Updated March 19, 2020 

With the newest CDC recommendations reducing gatherings to <10 persons, and an ever-growing number of states banning restaurant dine-ins, it is vital that restaurants explore business continuity and operations through take-out, delivery or drive-through modes (which, as of March 17, 2020, is still allowed). At the time same, businesses must assure and practice social distancing to keep both their workers and customers safe.

Below are a few recommendations for ensuring business continuity while keeping your workforce and employees safe:

  1. Utilizing drive-through is likely the best option for food acquirement. Drive-through operations create a natural distance between workers and customers. Additionally, it is easiest to keep food at safe temperatures. Unfortunately, many dine-in restaurants don not have these capabilities.

  2. Some restaurants are implementing curbside pick-up. Again, this can be a viable option to maintain social distancing while keeping workers employed.

  3. Delivery, by employees, can be a good option. This may help keep more employees employed. Before enacting such a policy, be sure to check with your insurance provider, review corporate policies, etc.

It is best to require advance payment by credit card. Drivers should not enter homes and should maintain distance at and during delivery. Remind drivers of the importance of hand-washing.

  1. Direct take-out can be the most problematic, as you don’t want guests congregating in your restaurant waiting for food. Thus, contact-less pick-up that does not enable customers to enter the facility beyond the doorway area is recommended. You can create contact-less pickup by setting up a table barrier between worker and customer. To maintain social distancing, worker on the inside will pass the food across the table to the customer on the other side. It is ideal to require pre-payment. However, if your register/check-out is located near the door, the table could be set up nearby.

  2. Food safety is of utmost importance; please consider food temperature maintenance. One option is to give specific times for pick-up (as pizza places currently do). Food is then kept at-temperature in the kitchen until the hand-off or pick-up time nears. Additionally, food temperatures when prepared and when picked-up/delivered can be recorded on the package to provide proof of temperature maintenance.

 

Over the next days we will continue to provide thoughts, advice, and best practices on optimizing the situation, and ensuring you have the critical infrastructure in place for business survival.

 

Updated March 20, 2020 

The State of California Health & Emergency Officials have provided social distancing guidance in a variety of food and beverage venues. Although the most extensive guidance is provided for grocery stores and charitable food distribution sites, TAG sees many of the directives as applicable to any public food venues that are remaining open in any form during the COVID-19 crisis, and added a few of its own.

  • Require social distancing of 6 feet (2 meters) per person, particularly between individuals who have come together on a one-time or rare basis.

  • Make it clear, however, that family members can participate in activities together, stand in line together, etc.

  • Limit the number of customers, at any given time, as needed, to reduce outdoor/indoor crowding and lines to meet social distancing guidance. You may want to create visual markers (e.g. lines on the floor, chalk on the sidewalk, barriers) so that people know what 6 feet is when they line up.

  • In areas where noise can make it difficult to communicate, consider developing a visual hand signal for employees (e.g. holding up 6 fingers) to let people know that they’re getting too close

  • Increase the cleaning and sanitizing frequencies of restrooms and other high-contact areas.

  • Train employees on best hygiene practices including washing their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Provide additional opportunities in the venue for persons to reduce the spread of the virus through handwashing or sanitizing stations.

  • Eliminate events/marketing that target individuals that have been identified as higher risk of serious illness for COVID-19 (e.g., older persons, those who are immunocompromised, etc.).

  • Stores that have online ordering with outside pick-up or delivery options should encourage use of these when possible in lieu of indoor shopping.

 

Visit the California Department of Public Health webpage for the full guidance, TAG’s COVID-19 Resources page for further information for food businesses, and contact TAG for guidance and advice on social distancing and other businesses practices during this crisis.

Due to the high number of inquiries received and the continuous developments regarding the virus, TAG is offering COVID-19 Retainer Packages to businesses concerned with the impact of this outbreak. 

OR call us at 1-800-401-2239

 

Keep up to date with COVID-19:

Please send us any questions, comments, and/or concerns! We are happy to talk with you. 

Learn how TAG can help your company ensure food safety and brand protection.

Contact us today!


 

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