Food Safety Risk Factors During COVID-19


Food Safety Risk Factors During COVID-19

Thursday, May 07, 2020

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While statements have been released stating that COVID-19 has no direct impact on food safety, it is nevertheless my opinion that there are numerous indirect impacts that this virus may have on the safety of the food we consume. In an effort to ensure food security through availability, many of our processes will be ramped up without taking into consideration crucial food safety protocols. As a result, we may find “non-COVID-19”-based food safety outbreaks occurring because of failure to monitor internal food safety programmes effectively due to the need to get food to everyone. Here are a few risk factors that you may need to consider when planning for changes in production to meet the growing demand.

Reduction in number of employees: With curfews and lockdowns imposed in some areas, processing facilities and food service establishments have been forced to operate on a skeleton staff to maintain the health and safety of themselves and their employees. This may result in employees becoming overwhelmed with activities and failing to focus on food safety protocols required to maintain a certain level of safety.

Solution: Ensure that you have a business continuity plan/operation plan in place that outlines the minimum competent staff required to operate effectively (one of which must always be a food safety expert).

Reduction in factory inspections: Imagine having to increase production to meet food demands in a poultry processing facility with limited number of employees may cause them to overlook issues that pose food safety threats. Coupled with that, health inspectors may not be as frequent to visit the facility due to their inability to travel to some locations. This may also be an issue in restaurants that are still operational and which may not be getting their usual inspectorate visits. Unless the entities implement strict measures to reduce potential sources of food hazard, they may become more prevalent due to the lack of external monitoring from the Public Health Department.

Solution: Speak to your regulatory body or inspectorate about virtual audits and inspections.

With the increased demand comes bottlenecks in production. This is exacerbated by limited work hours and employees. Consequently, many food entities may reduce the amount of internal checks and monitoring of critical hazard control points, to meet the supply needs on a timely basis.

Another potential risk factor is supply chain uncertainties, companies that supply businesses may have the above mentioned challenges and as a result supply other food processing facilities or food service establishments with contaminated product from an uncontrolled process.

Solution: Internal supplier management programmes should be adjusted for more rigid inspections.

While it will be difficult to maintain strict food safety monitoring practices, don't drop the ball. Even though you may have less employees, now is the time to increase monitoring frequencies and testing programmes. Ensure that your food safety personnel is always available, whether in person or on call. We already have enough challenges dealing with this virus, a food safety related outbreak would be too much for us to handle now!

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