The Key to Staying on Track during Covid-19

Posted: Monday, July 6, 2020 by Global Food Safety Resource

By Gordon Hayburn

While it may often feel as though the global pandemic took the food industry completely unprepared, it shouldn’t have.

Many of the manufacturing sites that supply the major retail chains are certified to one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), which require companies to prepare for some of what has gone on. All of the Benchmarked Standards require controls around “Business Continuity and Crisis Management” although they may not all use these exact terms.

on track blog

While the SARS-CoV-2 virus has some unique features, it still falls into the area of a “crisis to be managed” and certified sites should have had a plan for this type of situation and started with that plan. This is the same plan that would have been audited any number of times by the certification bodies and the same plan that must have had almost zero nonconformities raised against them. (I have tried to find out how common nonconformities in this section are, but no-one seems to be willing to share. I would bet that it isn’t in the top 20-30 of most common nonconformities and wouldn’t be surprised if it is even less common than that).

In the past there have been other disease/virus challenges in different parts of the world, from Swine Flu to Foot and Mouth Disease, SARS and MERS, to name a few, which impacted food manufacturing. We should have learned some lessons and improved our systems accordingly.

All of that said, here are the things that all food manufacturers (certified or not) should be doing:

• Don’t Panic – this achieves nothing and simply wastes energy.

• Rely on the science – Remember that there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID is transmitted through food. Most evidence suggests person to person spread, with touching of contaminated surfaces the next most common, but significantly far behind as a mechanism for spread.

• Keep the conversation and the messaging going. I don’t think you can over-communicate correct information. Remind everyone this is not just a work-based requirement, its 24/7, at home, at work, at play!

To protect your customers and your reputation:

The biggest risk at this time is likely to be fraud. Recognize where and how you may be vulnerable. Make sure you stick close to suppliers and ensure your approval process is being followed. Staff shortages may be an issue, so make sure all staff are correctly trained for the task(s) they are currently doing.

I have also noticed many companies are referring to the staff as the “front line”, and while they are definitely the front line of manufacturing controls, they are last line of defence in protecting each other, your customers and your business. Don’t fail to support them.

About the Author

Gordon Hayburn has a thirty-five-year food safety career including: industry, enforcement, and academia. He is the Vice President of Food Safety & Quality for Trophy Foods – the first company in the Americas to achieve the BRCGS AA+ grade. Peer and Industry recognition includes: The IAFP Harold Barnum Industry Award, the BRCGS Approved Training Partner of the Year, The NSF Canada Food Safety Leadership Award and was honoured by the US Army with the Warrant Officer Coin of Excellence for his food safety work with the Service. He is extremely passionate about food safety.

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