• The Acheson Group

FSMA Fridays Recap- COVID-19 Update: How F&B Manufacturers Can Prepare

In a special edition of TAG’s FSMA Friday webinars, TAG Senior Director of Food Safety Ben Miller provided An Update on COVID-19: How North American F&B Manufacturers Can Prepare for the Novel Coronavirus.

Coronavirus, itself, is not new. Previous outbreaks have included SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003 and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012. These viruses are found naturally in humans and animals but cause respiratory illness. The current outbreak, COVID-19, which began in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, is being called the “Novel” coronavirus because it’s new.

Coronaviruses are transmitted by human to human contact and through respiratory droplets. Anyone can acquire the virus because it does not discriminate between races or ethnicities. Additionally even non-symptomatic infected person can transmit the virus, and it can take two to 14 days between exposure and the onset of the illness or symptoms.

Symptoms of coronavirus include influenza – flu-like symptoms. They can be light, such as fever, cough, runny nose, and shortness of breath. But they also can become severe, causing severe acute respiratory infection, pneumonia, diarrhea, kidney failure, or even death. COVID-19 requires different tests for detection than for influenza. Originally all samples were sent to CDC for testing, but the government is now allowing many state public health labs to conduct the CDC tests themselves.

Current thinking is that coronavirus may be able to survive on surfaces up to nine days. There are seven important steps in protecting yourself and your company:

  1. Work with your supply chain.

  2. Promote good handwashing and hand hygiene.

  3. Have an employee illness reporting system in place.

  4. Clean and sanitize.

  5. Encourage employees to get the influenza vaccine.

  6. Workforce planning.

  7. Know who to contact at the local and state health departments.

Work with your supply chain. While there have already been some supply chain impacts, the first thing to understand is that it is safe to receive packages from places with outbreaks, including China. Additionally, the risk of virus transmission via food or ingredients in the supply chain is very low.

To keep impacts to your business as low as possible, it is important to review and work with your suppliers to understand the potential outbreak impacts on your supply chain. These could include:

  • Global supply chains may become more interrupted.

  • Public health surveillance systems in less developed countries may not detect illnesses.

  • There may be a need to identify alternate suppliers – which may be challenging to do rapidly as others look for alternatives as well.

You can reduce the potential of the spread of the virus within your facility through regular and proper handwashing by all employees. There is a possible fecal-oral contamination route making handwashing critical. Proper techniques are to wash thoroughly for 20 seconds, then sanitize with a 60% alcohol-based sanitizer. Employers should provide water, soap, and alcohol-based rubs for employees and visitors.

While employee illness reporting is being emphasized for COVID-19, remind employees that it is not just for coronavirus. Employees should not work when ill, so you need to have an employee illness reporting policy in place. It is important to discuss the policy and the reasons for not working when sick or ill with your employees, explaining that “germs” (bacteria and viruses) can spread through droplets.

Employees should not work if they have a fever of >100.4F (37.8C), acute respiratory illness, or are coughing, or short of breath. Discourage employees from coming to work if they have any of these symptoms. If someone is ill, separate them from other employees and send them home immediately. It also is critical to develop a workforce contingency plan for those who are ill.

While it may seem beneficial to wear face masks, CDC does not recommend that for healthy individuals, as there is limited evidence of efficacy. You may find, however, that visitors wear face masks for cultural reasons.

To ensure timely and accurate information in the case of a COVID-19 illness, know the contact information for health officials and authorities. State information is available at https://www.cste.org/page/EpiOnCall; local information at https://www.naccho.org/membership/lhd-directory.

To reduce overall illness in your facility and protect employees, visitors, and customers, encourage them to get the influenza vaccine. The flu causes significant illness in the United States. Cleaning and sanitizing commonly used or handled surfaces (doorknobs, countertops, workspace, etc.) will also help protect your business. Although coronavirus is resistant to the usual cleaning agents, bleach and hydrogen peroxide are effective.

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