Resources from the April 13 “Food Safety and COVID-19: What Businesses Need to Know” Webinar

Download April 13th's webinar slides.

1. Will food storage/processing temperatures inactivate COVID-19?

  • It is unlikely that freezing alone would be effective against COVID-19 virus. Currently there are no scientific studies demonstrating that freezing will kill COVID-19, so no one should rely on freezing alone to control COVID-19.
  • In general, a normal cooking process should destroy or inactivate COVID-19 virus. For example, a previous study states that 63⁰C or 145° F, for 30 min is sufficient to inactivate SARS and MERS, both of which are similar to COVID-19.

2. Should we have a separate Environmental Monitoring or swab test for COVID-19?

  • Note that COVID-19 is not an environmental pathogen and currently there is no evidence of food being associated with transmission of COVID-19. According to FDA, separate environmental testing in food production is not needed for the purpose of food safety. Which means, NO specific environmental swab testing is required for COVID-19 virus, including testing in zone-1 areas.
  • In general, the standard cleaning and sanitizing procedures that are part of every food processing operation are sufficient to remove common foodborne bacterial pathogens including COVID-19. However, now is the right time to review and if needed update your cleaning and sanitation verification procedures. Also, consider more frequent cleaning and sanitization of high touch areas, including door knobs, time card machines and snack machines.

3. Do I need to initiate employee testing for COVID-19?

  • At this stage, it is not necessary to test all the employees for COVID-19, but this also depends on the severity of COVID-19 spread in your area. Please contact your local health department for additional guidance, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a given area.
  • For employers, it is recommended to pre-screen incoming employees by taking their temperature and assessing their symptoms, prior to starting work. Additionally, it is highly recommended to conduct wellness checks by monitoring or asking the employee to self-monitor for symptoms like cough, fever, history of travel and any positive COVID-19 tests in their family. In most situations, these decisions will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission – not based on food safety. If employees begin to show symptoms, they should stay home and seek guidance from their health care provider. The CDC offers additional guidance on this topic. Beyond that, food production/processing facilities need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments.
  • Manufacturers should also prioritize additional resources to ensure that staff are trained appropriately in food hygiene procedures, such as our GMP and sanitation training.

4. I’ve heard that I need to do a temperature screening for all incoming employees and visitors?

  • Consult with your HR department and local health department to develop your policies for what screening measures to take, including frequency and communication with staff. Per the CDC, 100.4 F is considered a temperature. Each company will need to determine if this is the right measure for them.
    • Create and communicate a procedure for staff and visitors, including email, signage, and a go-to person for questions. You want your staff to know what you’re doing and why, with the goal of ensuring their health.
    • Organize screening for staff and separately for visitors
      • If possible, conduct screening before entering the facility in a tent or temporary area outside
      • Screening can be conducted by HR or others, but they should be wearing PPE when doing the screening and per local health department best practices  
    • When choosing a thermometer, make sure it’s non-contact and is marked as approved by the FDA or CE
      • Just as you wouldn’t use a human thermometer track oven temps, don’t use an oven temp thermometer to track human temps
    • Reference the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
    • Communicate with employees that they are not to show up to work if they’ve been exposed or are exhibiting symptoms

5. We’ve had an employee who tested positive for COVID-19. What sanitation activities do I need to do at my facility?

  • As a first step, send them home and have them call their doctor. From there, their doctor will determine next steps they have established best practices and support services specific to your local community.
  • Sanitation and maintenance are then necessary, especially for common areas/high touch areas – things to consider:
    • Coordinate with HR to communicate with employees about what is being done. For more guidance on steps to take with employee communication, please refer to the FDA FAQ website as it has several items to consider.
    • We recommend being proactive in communicating to help your workforce understand the cleaning procedures that will take place. Share what the company is doing to ensure worker health and safety, including cleaning best practices and appropriate PPE use.
    • Then you should clean their work station, common areas, high touch areas, and ALL other areas they may have been in contact with.
      • Zoning, traffic mapping can be beneficial – even if you know where they’ve been, you’ll need to do a full clean.
      • Reference the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 for a list of disinfectants that meet EPA’s criteria.
    • Communicate with employees/service providers everything that has been done to ensure their health and safety and why it will keep them safe – it will be difficult to over-communicate on this point. Your efforts here will benefit employee morale.

6. Now we are being asked to wear masks along with other PPE. Does it matter which PPE I put on first or last?   

  • Donning best practices for PPE
    • Remember that there is a progression/order to put masks, glasses, gloves and other equipment on
      • Any PPE worn incorrectly is as dangerous as no PPE
      • Consider captive masks, as they don’t leave the facility except for laundering/sanitizing
  • Doffing best practices for PPE
    • Masks and other PPE need to be removed correctly to avoid exposure
      • Fabric masks can be used as long as CDC guidance is followed. They need to be laundered between uses and should not be taken into common areas. The inside and outside of the mask should be marked to avoid incorrect use.  
  • It is also important for employees to wash their hands post-PPE removal

7. How do I maintain social/physical distancing during shift changes?

  • Even in small or busy facilities, options for increasing distancing can include:
    • Additional time between the departure of shift A and arrival of shift B, which can minimize exposure risk and allow for adequate facility sanitation.
    • Donning and doffing can be completed in separate rooms/portions of the locker room to minimize contact between teams.
    • Think of a blueprint of your facility, noting entry and exit locations, creating a flow for one entrance and a separate exit if possible.  
    • Consider having a separate PPE area for visitors to minimize worker and visitor interaction.
  • Visit last week’s Tip of the Week blog post for six key questions you should be asking about creating distance between employees.  

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