On Wednesday, the 11th of March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) pronounced COVID-19 a global pandemic. In the times since, governments have put into place measures to halt the spread of this virus. While there have always been food safety management systems in place to protect consumers from unsafe food, with the rise of COVID-19, standards became stricter. Should we now relax as COVID rates decline? Or is this an opportune moment to prevent further viral outbreaks in the future?
COVID-19 and the food supply chain
There has always been some concern about the potential for contamination of the food supply chain by food workers and consumers. Since the initial COVID-19 outbreak, interventions such as social distancing, contactless payments and deliveries, frequent hand washing, and sanitiser have been introduced. These and other precautions will continue to be important to prevent COVID-19 and other viral outbreaks.
COVID-19 also disrupted food supply chains in practical ways, causing blockages at ports and shortages of stocks as consumers panic-purchased. As more people bought items online, resources were stretched to meet the demand. COVID-19 had far-reaching consequences that could not have been foreseen. This is why achieving greater resilience in your food manufacturing business is so important. Innovations such as digitalisation, artificial intelligence and automation all have a part to play in an improved food supply chain.
What can be done to prevent communicable diseases?
We can contract many kinds of illnesses and diseases from food. It may become contaminated by a sick worker, it may be stored inappropriately, or some other substance might leak into it. Some such incidents recently lead to food recalls in Australia and New Zealand. Other threats are spread from person to person or person to surface, such as COVID-19.
We were forced to take action when we were presented with this virus. But now that we’ve moved into the “new normal”, are our supply chains still at risk of new contaminants? Food safety management systems such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) aim to reduce all food risks. They are equally vital to minimise the spread of infectious agents such as COVID-19 and any others that may come along. Simple interventions such as regular cleaning, sanitation, and good personal hygiene help reduce the risk.
What have we learned from COVID-19?
The Australian Government reported fewer notifications of national diseases in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous five years. These statistics include fewer Salmonellosis, Listeriosis and Campylobacter infections. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, this fact seems to imply that:
Public health measures put in place to control the pandemic, such as physical distancing, international and local travel restrictions, lockdowns, mask-wearing and handwashing, would have also affected the spread of other infectious diseases, particularly respiratory viruses.
In short, some of these “public health measures” are good practices as preventative tools to avoid another calamity as debilitating as COVID-19. Why can’t we use social distancing in a food production plant or in a commercial kitchen? It may seem extreme, but innovation often looks like that at first. Can we have sanitiser stations around the workplace? Can we wear personal protective equipment, including masks, where necessary? If we did these so-called extreme actions, we might even further reduce the risk of foodborne illness and still make our food supply chains safer.
Establishing a food safety culture
During COVID-19, a Codex HACCP revision incorporated the requirements of establishing and maintaining a food safety culture in food production and handling environments. This move acknowledged human behaviour and its effects on producing safe food. It is a lasting consequence of COVID-19 that must be adhered to by the management and personnel of food manufacturing plants.
Train your staff in the best food production practices
At National Food Institute, we offer world-class food processing and logistics training to equip your team with all the necessary information and skills they need to be leaders in your field. Training can boost morale, fill skill gaps and ensure all staff understand their roles and responsibilities. It also ensures that everyone on your team is up to speed with current safety standards.
Contact us to get started on your customised training program.