Food and Beverage: Keeping Production Safe From COVID-19

Food and Beverage: Keeping Production Safe From COVID-19

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have been responding to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that was first detected in China and has now spread to almost all countries across the world.

FDA Stance on COVID-19’s Impact on Food and Beverage Production

The Food and Drug Administration has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 virus outbreak and its influence on all the supply chains that the administration oversees. Among a large amount of misinformation that has been spread about the COVID-19 virus, the FDA provides clear guidance on the virus’s effect on the food and beverage industry. In a press release dated February 27, 2020 Stephen M. Hahn M.D. Commissioner of Food and Drugs from the Food and Drug Administration states:

“We are not aware of any reports at this time 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.” The beverage production industry falls under the same guidelines for the impact of COVID-19, at this time there are no reports of human illnesses spread through beverage production.[2]

Hygiene Practices for Food and Beverage Production

Although current reporting from the Food and Drug Administration states that the COVID-19 virus has not shown the ability to be transported through food and beverage preparation, it is still important for producers to practice good hygiene and maintenance plans. The food and beverage industry still remains susceptible to foodborne illnesses like the Norovirus, the Hepatitis A virus, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli (E. Coli).

The guidance from the CDC’s message on the COVID-19 outbreak was to focus on good hygiene practices when preparing, packaging, and serving food. The greatest risk to the food and beverage production industry from the COVID-19 virus is workers and employees contracting the virus while at work. Outbreaks at manufacturing sites quickly stall production and disrupt supply chains.

Preparing for and Preventing the COVID-19 Virus

As the COVID-19 virus outbreak spreads across the United States, it is important for food and beverage production industries to plan, prepare, and take preventative action now to protect their employees and communities. The following are steps that the officials and health experts at food and beverage companies can take.

  1. Review, update and implement emergency operation plans (EOPs). Emergency operations plans are the standardized practices and drills that facilities plan to enact in the occurrence of significant risk to employees and the community. These emergency operation plans can be either a strict policy or a flexible emergency template. Either way, EOPs are an essential emergency practice that should be verified and even rehearsed in the face of growing COVID-19 virus risk.
  2. Monitoring plan for signs and symptoms of sick personnel. Infected personnel showing up at work is the quickest and most likely way for the COVID-19 virus to spread within food and beverage industry production plants. Companies throughout the industry need to both monitor and prepare plans of action for personnel who exhibit any flu-like symptoms.
  3. Establish procedures for employees who are sick with any illness to self-quarantine. Procedures for employees in each company will be different, and essential personnel should be identified at each facility. In the case of employees exhibiting flu-like symptoms, there needs to be a method to get them into self-isolation or quarantine.
  4. Perform routine environmental cleaning. Plant cleaning, sterilizing, and maintenance procedures should already be in place at the facilities within the food and beverage industry. It may be necessary to increase the frequency and intensity of the maintenance and cleaning plan at plants in order to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
  5. Create plans to communicate accurate and timely information across the organization. Information and honest reporting of maintenance practices, COVID-19 response plans, and health statistics are the keys to fighting the spreading of the virus and to keeping key personnel informed.

Overall Effect of the COVID-19 Virus

Food and beverage production companies have overall not been spared by the health and economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Volatile stock market response to the virus outbreak has caused financial insecurities while the health impacts of the virus have created the potential for lapses in the manufacturing, production, and distribution aspects of businesses. The Food and Drug Administration has stepped its monitoring and enforcement of regulations aimed at quality control and keeping workers safe. It is the responsibility of leaders in the industry to enact prudent measures to combat the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 resources from CDC include:

For more information from the CDC, visit Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html

[2] https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-supply-chain-update

Next Steps:

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