March 19, 2020
By Melanie Neumann, J.D., M.S. EVP & General Counsel, Matrix Sciences International, Inc.
We are starting to receive more and more questions on whether COVID-19 is transmitted via food. Understandably the daily changing risks associated with this pandemic are causing great concern, and in certain areas, the verge of chaos. There is food hoarding in areas hardest hit, and many questions are arising as to whether food is safe, and what food facilities should be doing to protect the food it produces.
First, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains that there currently is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Also, in general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures. See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#spreads.
It is essential to understand that food facilities need to stay in business. You need to continue to produce food to meet the ongoing demand. Yes, you need to do so while best protecting your personnel, your customers, and consumers. But remember –we do this every day. Or should be. We are required to follow Good Manufacturing Practices like training and monitoring our staff on personnel hygiene requirements. We have preventive controls, critical control points, sanitation, allergen and other programs to provide the highest confidence the food we produce is as safe as possible. Keep in mind—food always has and always will have a certain amount of residual risk associated with the safety of the food it produces. Reducing all risk to zero is not practical or arguably possible. When we deal with people and food and microorganisms, we face a certain amount of risk despite our best efforts.
The punchline is to-continue to follow your food safety programs! Enforce personnel hygiene practices, illness and disease policies, and pay even closer attention to your process, sanitation, allergen and supply chain controls, and your environmental monitoring and testing program. We don’t want to cut corners and create conditions for Listeria monocytogenes to grow and contaminate food. Beyond the obvious risk, this may make a consumer ill, requiring them to seek medical treatment for LM. They then become exposed to others seeking treatment for COVID-19. All because we were the reason they had to go to a hospital. Now that’s the more significant risk around food and COVID-19. Stay diligent in enforcing GMPS and hazard controls in your facility. That is your best defense.
What other COVID-19 specific guidance can food companies follow?
• Try your best to achieve social distancing
• Rotate personnel
• Elongate shifts to have fewer staff in at one time
• Limit breakroom/lunchroom numbers by rotating breaks
• Encourage and monitor personnel hygiene practices such as hand-washing, glove changing, etc.
• Approve new suppliers you need to switch to because of supply chain disruptions in ingredients/packaging,
For consumers, it is an important reminder to encourage consumers to follow long-standing safe food handling practices recommended for YEARS! For example, FIGHT BAC encourages people to follow four core steps: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, and CHILL. Trust me, COVID-19 is not the first time that washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water before and after handling food has been uttered.
Matrix Sciences Advisory Services is offering food and beverage companies assistance in dealing with COVID19, including internal and external communications, supply chain approval assistance when changing suppliers is necessary, and more. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or assistance.
DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL OR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. MATRIX SCIENCES INTERNATIONAL, INC., NOR THE AUTHOR MAKE NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN CONNECTION WITH THE INFORMATION HEREIN NOR SHALL THE PARTIES BE RESPONSIBLE OR LIABLE FOR ANY COSTS OR DAMAGES RELATED TO THE USE OR INTERPRETATION OF THIS INFORMATION.