Coronavirus Risk Management Guide for Food Businesses

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A Food Safety guide for managing Coronavirus Risk Management for food Industry.

In the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, food businesses are revisiting their food safety plans and hygiene best practices. Moreover, given the uncertainty around COVID-19, risk management involves staying abreast of how the virus spreads and adhering to government’s communique on practising social distancing. If you would like to know what the “Coronavirus” is, click through here

What we know so far

  1. There currently exists no evidence that coronavirus is transmitted through food. The virus spreads from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets that people sneeze, exhale or cough.
  2. Although it is not clear how long COVID-19 stays on surfaces, studies suggest that the virus may survive on surfaces for a few hours to up to several days. The duration is dependent on factors like the type of surface and the temperature and humidity of the environment.
  3. Studies have indicated that environmental surfaces play a role in transmitting viral infections. Lower air temperatures enhance the survival of the coronavirus.
  4. The New Zealand government has placed the country in an Alert 4 lockdown; only essential services remain open, and all restaurants, bars and places where people gather, are closed. We will move into Alert level 3 lockdown in the coming week and then Alert level 2 a fortnight after.

What you can do now

The important things

  1. Continue following Good Manufacturing Practices to maintain the consistent quality and safety of food products. Regular disinfectants and good hygiene practices efficiently manage coronavirus impacting personnel within the business.
  2. The good news is that the risk of person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 in the food industry is low owing to the GMP requirements that call for the exclusion of any individuals with any infectious diseases from the food processing environment.
  3. As studies suggest a link between lower air temperatures and coronavirus survival, take special care when receiving incoming products, storing them and unpacking food after retrieving them from cold storage.
  4. Keep the focus on people, premises, processes, products and procedures even as you implement a COVID-19 risk management plan. The plan will depend on reliable information on coronavirus’ transmission and the corresponding impact on food businesses.

HACCP Plan

Functional hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) system has a master sanitation schedule describing and procedures for cleaning and sanitizing the equipment and facility. Continue operating your preventive control plans (cleaning, contamination), disinfecting and sanitizing work equipment and surfaces, as well as all high-touch surfaces, will kill most viruses, including the coronavirus.

  • No product can adequately disinfect or sanitize a dirty surface, so cleaning with soap and water is an essential first step before sanitizing.
  • To disinfect, use a stronger concentration of the cleaner and rinse; to sanitize, use a smaller concentration and allow to air dry.
  • As the virus can stay on surfaces for days, more frequent cleaning and sanitization may be necessary.
  • Food transport personnel should carry disinfectant wipes to wipe down their bags. Consider a no-contact delivery system, where delivery personnel leave the order at customers’ doorstep or gate.
  • Carry small packages in a “bin” where the transport operator does not need to touch the packaging if they are required to contact, enable them to wipe down the food packaging before handing them over to customers/placing them on customers’ doorstep.

Special precautions

Increase the frequency of cleaning and where you are cleaning. Carry out a walk-through of your facility in the shoes of staff to identify high-touch point areas of the business to account for the intricacies of your operations. Create a plan to disinfect these common areas, e.g. switches, keyboards, trolleys.

Apart from increasing the cleaning frequency, carry out proper sanitizing and disinfecting of the interior and exterior of equipment – including the ice machine. If a busy staff member coughs into their hands, forgets to wash their hands, and later touches the ice supply, the virus can potentially be transmitted to a customer’s drink.

For this reason, you may want to revisit your HACCP prerequisite program to check if you’re missing any sanitation, hygiene-related precautions or if workflows need to be improved to reflect the new reality. For example, you can direct staff always to use an ice scoop to dispense ice from the chilly bin, instruct them not to scoop ice using glassware, and emphasize that staff must wash their hands before scooping ice out of the container.

Effective Cleaning Agents

The inactivation of COVID-19 is relatively easy because the matrix of the outer lipid layer can be disrupted with generally available cleaning agents. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that the following common cleaning agents are effective.

  • Alcohol-Based: Sanitizer – 60% minimum, wipes, spray 70% minimum. The product should have verified viricidal efficacy under BS EN 14476 for industrial use.
  • Peracetic Acid-Based foam or 5 and 15% w/w concentrates are suitable.
  • Sodium Hypochlorite ‐solutions delivering 1,000 PPM free Chlorine for disinfection are suitable.

Operations Management

Keep on top of the local authority and country announcements on COVID-19, it is a rapidly evolving topic, and new guidelines are issued as required. Gather COVID-19 information from authoritative sources, such as government websites and the World Health Organization (WHO). Be informed when making decisions for your business.

A positive atmosphere

Convey to employees that viral infections can be avoided by following necessary precautions and etiquettes. A positive environment can help everyone remember hygiene best practices and avoid unnecessary panic or fear.

Educate

Educate staff on the risks of the coronavirus—timely reminders of its implications for their and coworkers health. Early information session on the outbreak, its common symptoms, its transmission pathways and avoidance methods, will remove the stigma around your risk management plan and encourage cooperation from everyone.

Create signage reminding staff to wash their hands and check for symptoms. Such constant reminders help keep hygiene practices front-of-mind and inspire everyone to watch out for one another.

Preventing human to human transmission

The risk of transmission via respiratory droplets affects your staff and customers. In the unfortunate circumstance that multiple staff members fall ill and are unable to work, your business could suffer.

Reinforce the importance of maintaining proper food-handling hygiene, regular handwashing, cleaning, wearing the appropriate gear, e.g. PPE and following best hygiene practices when coming into and out of business.

As a precautionary measure, advise staff to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, which are mucous membranes that allow the absorption of coronavirus.

Social Distancing

Few operations are set up for social distancing. Implement at least 1.2m distance between each workspace, 2m gap between the workspaces is ideal.

Long term, when we go down to COVID-19 Alert level 2, customers may prefer establishments where they would be sitting at a considerable distance from other people.

You have the opportunity to create more space between tables, such as by placing them at least one meter apart. If space doesn’t permit it, consider rearranging furniture or removing a few items to make it possible to keep the distance.

Contact tracing

When the government relaxes the lockdown, allowing restaurants, bars and nightclubs to open, practice guidelines on physical distancing, restricting the number of people at your venue, and implementing a guest register for contact tracing.

The guest register should contain guests’ full name and address, phone number, email address, and the date and time of arrival to your venue. Let guests know that the details will be used only for contact tracing and remain in the register for a limited time.

Bottom line

Populations worldwide are taking active measures to do their bit in flattening the curve of the coronavirus pandemic. Food businesses can overcome the challenge by reviewing their GMP and HACCP plans to reinforce hygiene and sanitation best practices and including new procedures to minimize transmission risk. Proactive and sensitive communication, ensuring that process workflows and instructions are followed diligently, and vigilance will be necessary to tide the business over until the outbreak is fully contained.

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