COVID Impact: Importance of Hygiene in Food Industry
While there is no evidence that it’s possible to contract COVID-19 through the consumption of food, the pandemic is making everything more difficult. First of all, contracting a food-borne illness will ruin your health and immunity, while there’s still a risk of you contracting COVID-19. Other than this, a lot of clinical centers have shifted their priority towards COVID-19 treatment, which is why the medical system is strained as it is. Therefore, mass food poisoning would be the worst thing to happen at the moment.
Aside from this, a lot of businesses in the hospitality industry have shifted towards delivery exclusively. This means that packing, distribution and preservation of meals are entrusted to entities that may not have enough previous experience in this field. In order to solve all of these problems, it’s quite important for everyone to keep up with all the latest regulations regarding hygiene in the food industry.
Here are several tips on how this can be improved and kept safe amidst the greatest pandemic of the 21st century.
1. Rules of production in the food industry
Every business that produces food (regardless if it’s human or animal) should have a COVID-19 assessment and control plan. This will ensure the safety of employees in production and keep everyone safe. In other words, just because COVID-19 cannot be transferred via food, this doesn’t mean that people involved in food production, processing, packing or delivery cannot get infected, possibly even transmitting it to others.
The first item on the agenda is definitely the social distancing within the facility, as well as wearing all the necessary PPE equipment.
Another crucial issue is the question of paid sick leave and the responsibility amongst your employees. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should report to their immediate supervisor and stay at home/go get necessary medical care or guidance. It would be ideal if you also had some form of testing at the checkpoint. That way, you wouldn’t have to rely on the responsibility of your employees.
There are new discoveries regarding the virus on a regular basis, as well as new regulations regarding the optimal way of fighting it in your production facility/headquarters. This is why such a topic should be continuously researched.
2. Have a contingency plan
The next thing you need to do is have a contingency plan and prepared mechanisms that will allow you to act upon any crisis immediately. For starters, we’ve already mentioned the concept of checkpoint testing. Seeing as how symptoms will not develop right away, chances are that some of your employees may become symptomatic during work hours. So, you need to assess their health even when they’re leaving work (just in case).
Needless to say, if they express any symptoms while working, you shouldn’t risk it. You should send them to be tested straight away, potentially even close production for the day, until you get everything disinfected and safe.
Also, keep in mind that there may be some workstations which may be bad for the health of your employees in the long run. These are the areas which, after long exposure, worsen the physical condition of your employees by quite the margin.
3. More than cleanliness
The next thing worth mentioning here is the fact that hygiene in the food industry is about more than just keeping everything clean. Your priorities are to protect the consumer from:
- Harmful bacteria
- Foreign bodies
While this may sound quite simple, the truth is that this contamination happens in all shapes and forms. Also, keep in mind that some foods naturally have harmful bacteria in them, which need to be decontaminated through cooking or processing. In other words, it’s not just about decontaminating it either.
Unfortunately, sometimes the contamination will occur on accident or the materials that you’ve ordered may be lower than the expected quality. In that scenario, it is essential that you discard the contaminated food in the best way possible.
4. Providing necessary supplies
As an entrepreneur, it is your job to provide everyone with the necessary supplies for the maintenance of personal safety. If we’re talking about limiting the potential spread of the virus, you need to make sure that all your employees have masks (potentially even visors), protective gloves and that there’s enough hand sanitizer. Even more importantly, you need to install foam soap dispensers around the place and keep them filled at all times.
Keep in mind that while it’s a common practice for employees to wear their own masks to work, sometimes, even the most responsible of people forget. Sometimes their mask may slip out of their pocket and into a puddle, so what happens when they have no spare. You need to have a steady supply that will be constantly at hand.
Some would suggest having enough masks and visors for potential visitors, as well. Still, during the pandemic, it’s best to keep these outside visits to a minimum (ideally, not have outside visitors, at all). Extreme circumstances require extreme measures.
5. What happens if someone is positive?
If someone turns out to be positive for COVID-19, there are several steps that an employer needs to take in order to keep things safe. First of all, they need to close off areas used by a sick person and disinfect them thoroughly. Even after this, you should wait at least 24 hours before people start working in that same area again.
It is also important that you start collecting info on all the people that they’ve interacted with. Community-related exposure is a huge issue in keeping everyone safe and limiting the spread of the virus within your own business. From here, you should also advise all the affected parties towards recommended precautions and even provide them with the necessary learning materials.
6. What are the benefits of good food hygiene?
In the food industry, you may have just one shot. A single food poisoning with media coverage and you’re done for. Not only will your audience start abandoning you in droves but you may get some of the essential licenses withdrawn from you, as well. This will make you unable to continue working in the industry.
On the other hand, good practices in the industry will increase your reputation, earn you some loyal customers and even earn you favors with your own staff. The place will become more pleasant to work with, the appeal of your business will become higher when it comes to hiring new employees and you will face a lower staff turnover. As a result, this also creates better job security, which is something that benefits everyone in your employ.
7. It’s an individual effort, as well
Keep in mind that while rules and regulations are incredibly important, the truth is that the negligence of any individual employee has the potential to put everything at risk. For instance, in order to keep the environment safe, your employees have to:
- Follow the rules
- Follow personal hygiene habits
- Stay alert at all times
- Work with care
- Notify superiors if anything seems out of place
This last part is especially important, seeing as how it proves that there’s more than just the tools, materials and work environment that matters here. Trust and communication between your staff and your junior/middle management are just as important. An immediate response to a problem may sometimes be outside of the jurisdiction of an average employee. In those scenarios, you need to ensure that they have someone to talk to.
In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, they also need to be able to tell their immediate superior if they’re feeling unwell. Fearing the repercussions of this action (being scolded for not reporting sooner, no paid sick leave, etc.) is what can further jeopardize everyone’s health and safety.
8. Food export restrictions
When it comes to the topic of global trade, it’s worth mentioning that the situation is… complicated, to put it as mildly as possible. Due to borders shutting and the flow of trade being disrupted, some countries are afraid of whether they’ll have enough materials and goods for their own citizens, which makes them restrict the export. However, there’s also the issue of different countries having different food regulations.
The best example of this are the sanitary rules regarding washing/not washing eggs in the US and Europe, which makes this food product always non-compliant with the other market. There are numerous such rules that have always been partially restricted. While this isn’t a major change when compared to the previous period, during the pandemic and additional restrictions, things are getting even more complex.
While proper hygiene is always important, in the food industry it can be a matter of life and death. During the pandemic, the importance of this is even higher. Overall, there are a lot of rules and regulations that you need to follow in order to keep everything right. This is both your moral and legal obligation as an entrepreneur or a part of management. Still, each individual in the food industry has their own personal responsibility.