FAQs for the Food Industry
The most frequently food industry questions answered by Matrix Science experts.
Q: Can I become sick with coronavirus (COVID-19) from food?
A: At this time there is no evidence of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods. Additional information from the FDA here.
Q: Where should the food industry go for guidance about business operations?
A: Food facilities, like other work establishments, need to follow protocols set by federal, local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a particular area. We encourage food and beverage businesses to refer back to the information released by these agencies frequently so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside. Ultimately the food industry should follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and frequently revisit due to the changing dynamics of this pandemic.
Manufacturers can consult the following resources:
Restaurants can reference:
Q: Are those working in the agricultural sector considered Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers?
A: Yes. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency lists Food and Agricultural Workers as being among the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers for the COVID-19 response. It also lists the agricultural sector among 16 critical infrastructure sectors. As such food production facilities and labs are allowed to operate per normal business operations. This said, CDC, FDA and USDA guidance must be followed.
Q: A worker in my food production/processing facility/farm has tested positive for COVID-19. What do I need to do to continue operations while protecting my other employees?
A: All components of the food industry are considered critical infrastructure and it is therefore vital that they continue to operate.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 that includes information on how a COVID-19 outbreak could affect workplaces and steps all employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).
Food production/processing facilities/farms need to follow protocols, including cleaning protocols, set by FDA, USDA, CDC and state and local health departments, which may vary depending on location. These decisions will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission – not based on food safety.
Employees who are displaying symptoms / are sick should follow the CDC’s What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This guidance also addresses when ill employees may return to work.
Q: What if an employee may have been exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19?
A: If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees who were in close contact with the positive employee of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality about individual employees’ identities. CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.
Employers are to follow safety practices for critical infrastructure workers as detailed here by the CDC.
Q: How will FSIS-regulated establishments handle COVID-19 positive cases?
A: All FSIS-regulated establishments are required to have and implement Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (Sanitation SOP). The establishment must maintain daily records sufficient to document the implementation and monitoring of the Sanitation SOPs and any corrective action taken. The same sanitary procedures and disinfectants typically used by establishments to protect food safety will also help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a list of disinfectants that have qualified under EPA’s emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Q. What measures are FDA (and CDC, state partners, etc.) taking to ensure that we remain able to address foodborne illness outbreaks during the COVIS-19 pandemic?
A: Reminder: SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory, not gastrointestinal, illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.
With respect to foodborne pathogens, CDC, FDA, FSIS and state and local public health partners are maintaining routine public health surveillance for infections and outbreaks that may be transmitted through foods. CDC continues to lead and coordinate investigations of multistate foodborne events, consults with states as needed on events within a single state, and works closely with FDA and FSIS investigators so that contaminated foods are traced back to their sources and controlled.
Q. Where should I send questions if we are having problems moving food or getting food through areas that have curfews and restrictions because of the coronavirus?
If you are experiencing issues regarding your supply chain, delivery of goods, or business continuity, please contact the FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center at email@example.com. This is a 24/7 operation and they can assist in directing your inquiry to the proper contact.
Q. How can you protect yourself?
A: Visit the COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment page to learn about how to protect yourself from respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.
Q: Do I need to recall food products produced in the facility during the time that the worker was potentially shedding virus while working?
A: The FDA has expressed that they do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19, as there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging.
Q: Should I be providing face coverings to my employees?
A: CDC issued a recommendation for all persons to wear face coverings in public places or where social distancing is difficult to achieve. This is due to recent learnings that people may have COVID-19 and transmit it to others without any symptoms. Read more here.
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