Considerations for food processing facilities during novel coronavirus pandemic
Food processors are concerned about the health and safety of their employees and those they help feed.
For the most up to date information related to the novel coronavirus, please check with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html(CDC). Food processors are always required to operate under sanitary conditions and abide by sanitation regulations regardless of their licensed regulatory agency. It is important to continue these practices and increase the frequency of wiping down and disinfecting common surfaces in areas that are in high traffic zones or frequently touched by employees or customers. A list of Environmental Protection Agency approved disinfectants for the novel coronavirus and required surface contact time is available. Bleach is also an option using 4 teaspoons to one quart of water. Documentation of these added sanitation efforts should be done by food establishments using a simple log of date, time, disinfectant used, surfaces and initial of employee that completed the task. A sample record keeping form is available from Michigan State University Extension. Facilities that already document operational sanitation tasks should increase the frequency of recording for tasks such as observing increased employee hand washing.
For food establishments that must have visitors, it is always recommended to keep a log of visitors and restrict access to a limited area of the facility. If you have a retail establishment that sells food to the public, increase the frequency of sanitizing common surfaces such as door handles, cooler or freezer display case doors, baskets, carts, checkout counters and devices used for credit card payment. It is recommended at this time that customer’s reusable shopping bags are not used or handled by employees. Ask employees and customers to practice good social distancing to the extent possible. Increased communication with customers is also encouraged. This can be reassurance of policies and procedures that you are taking as a business to increase the health and safety of customers and employees.
Retail meat and grocery stores are also experiencing increased volume of sales as consumers shift to eating more at home compared to restaurant or food service meals. Let customers know what products are in stock and offer recipe suggestions for those not familiar with cooking certain cuts. Commodity organizations are good sources for recipes (i.e. beef, pork, and poultry). Online sales of meat and poultry are also experiencing growth. Communicate to customers if you offer delivery or online sales options.
It is also appropriate to understand and share with customers and employees that according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is “no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.
Employee communication should be increased and done in multiple formats including increased signage and emails. It is recommended to remind employees to stay home if they are ill and especially if their oral temperature is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater. Relaxing attendance policies and reassuring employees they will not lose their job if they need to be out because they or a family member are ill. Also increase monitoring and enforcement of common food handling practices including and especially proper hand washing.
Michigan State University Extension continues to monitor updates from local, state and national agencies. The CDC has specific resources for business and employers. Michigan has resources related to the state for the novel coronavirus that include orders for restaurants to have carry-out or delivery service only with no dine-in options. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has also created resources for Food Establishments. Establishments may want to contact insurance providers to learn about implications from this pandemic related to their business interruption insurance. Another resource from Food Industry Council has good recommendations for food processors as well. Finally, this is a time to come together and support community. If you are running low on supplies, not able to receive normal shipments and are part of an association, consider reaching out to fellow members or suppliers to share existing supplies such as gloves, sanitizers and soap.