Tag Archives: social distancing

Coronavirus, COVID-19

Fourth USDA Food Safety Inspector, at Least 30 Meat Plant Workers Dead from COVID-19

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Coronavirus, COVID-19

Last week another USDA food safety inspector died as a result of COVID-19. Time reported the unidentified inspector was located in Dodge City, Kansas, and cited a brief USDA statement: “USDA can confirm the passing of an employee. The safety and well being of our employees is our top priority. We thank those working on the front lines of our food supply chain for remaining on the job and for making sure the American people have access to safe food.”

Attend the webinar, “Is Your Plant COVID-19 Safe?” | May 27,2020 at 12 pm ET According to the report, at least 30 workers at meat plants have died of coronavirus, and a fourth USDA inspector as of May 14. More 100 USDA FSIS employees were self-quarantining as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and 171 field employees were diagnosed with the virus and did not report to work.

Worker safety at meat plants has been a concern for months, and the industry has been grappling with the threat of a meat shortage. On April 28, President Trump signed an executive order to keep meat and poultry processing facilities open during the COVID-19 crisis.

FDA

As States Look to Reopen, FDA Releases Best Practices for Retail Food Establishments

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Across the country, many restaurants have been closed for at least two months, while others have been partially closed and offering take-out or delivery to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As states begin their strategy to reopen the economy, many restaurants have already opened, and others are preparing for when this day comes. To better help food retail establishments during this uncertain time, the FDA has issued the checklist, “Best Practices for Re-Opening Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, along with a two-page infographic.

The checklist offers guidance in several key areas related to food safety practices, including:

  • Facility Operations
  • Water, Plumbing and Ice
  • Food Contact and Non-food Contact Surfaces (clean, disinfect, sanitize)
  • Food Temperature Control
  • Product Inspection, Rotation
  • Dishwashing Equipment
  • Handwashing Stations
  • Employee Health/Screening
  • Social Distancing

While the food safety checklist covers a lot of ground, the FDA has stated that the list is not comprehensive. “We encourage retail food establishments to partner with local regulatory/health authorities to discuss the specific requirements for their retail food establishment prior to re-opening,” the agency states.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

COVID-19 and Food Fraud Risk

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

While foodborne transmission of the novel coronavirus is unlikely , the virus has significantly affected all aspects of food production, food manufacturing, retail sales, and foodservice. The food and agriculture sector has been designated as a “critical infrastructure,” meaning that everyone from farm workers to pest control companies to grocery store employees has been deemed essential during this public health crisis.* As a society, we need the food and agriculture sector to continue to operate during a time when severe illnesses, stay-at-home orders and widespread economic impacts are occurring. Reports of fraudulent COVID-19 test kits and healthcare scams reinforce that “crime tends to survive and prosper in a crisis.” What does all of this mean for food integrity? Let’s look at some of the major effects on food systems and what they can tell us about the risk of food fraud.

Supply chains have seen major disruptions. Primary food production has generally continued, but there have been challenges within the food supply chain that have led to empty store shelves. Recent reports have noted shortages of people to harvest crops, multiple large meat processing facilities shut down due to COVID-19 cases, and recommendations for employee distancing measures that reduce processing rates. One large U.S. meat processor warned of the need to depopulate millions of animals and stated “the food supply chain is breaking.” (An Executive Order was subsequently issued to keep meat processing plants open).

Equally concerning are reports of supply disruptions in commodities coming out of major producing regions. Rice exports out of India have been delayed or stopped due to labor shortages and lockdown measures. Vietnam, which had halted rice exports entirely in March, has now agreed to resume exports that are capped at much lower levels than last year. Other countries have enacted similar protectionist measures. One group has predicted possible food riots in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil that may experience major food disruption coupled with high population density and poverty.

Supply chain complexity, transparency and strong and established supplier relationships are key aspects to consider as part of a food fraud prevention program. Safety or authenticity problems in one ingredient shipment can have a huge effect on the market if they are not identified before products get to retail (see Figure 1). Widespread supply chain disruptions, and the inevitable supplier adjustments that will need to be made by producers, increase the overall risk of fraud.

Reconstructed supply chain
Figure 1. Reconstructed supply chain based on recall data following the identification of Sudan I in the chili powder supply chain in 2005. Data source: Food Standards Agency of the U.K. National Archives and The Guardian. Figure from: Everstine, K. Supply Chain Complexity and Economically Motivated Adulteration. In: Food Protection and Security – Preventing and Mitigating Contamination during Food Processing and Production. Shaun Kennedy (Ed.) Woodhead Publishing: 26th October 2016. Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/books/food-protection-and-security/kennedy/978-1-78242-251-8

Regulatory oversight and audit programs have been modified. The combination of the public health risk that COVID-19 presents with the fact that food and agriculture system workers have been deemed “critical” has led to adjustments on the part of government and regulatory agencies (and private food safety programs) with respect to inspections, labeling requirements, audits, and other routine activities. The FDA has taken measures including providing flexibility in labeling for certain menus and food products, temporarily conducting remote inspections of food importers, and generally limiting domestic inspections to those that are most critical. USDA FSIS has also indicated they are “exercising enforcement discretion” to provide labeling flexibilities. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced they are prioritizing certain regulatory activities and temporarily suspending those activities determined to be “low risk.” GFSI has also taken measures to allow Certification Program Owners to provide certificate extensions due to the inability to conduct in-person audits.

While these organizations have assured stakeholders and the public that food safety is of primary importance, the level of direct regulatory and auditing oversight has been reduced to reduce the risk of virus transmission during in-person activities. Strong auditing programs with an anti-fraud component are an important aspect of food fraud prevention. Adjustments to regulatory and auditing oversight, as necessary as they may be, increase the risk of fraud in the food system.

There is a focus on safety and sustainability of foods. The food industry and regulatory agencies are understandably focused on basic food safety and food sustainability and less focused on non-critical issues such as quality and labeling. However, there is a general sense among some in industry that the risk of food fraud is heightened right now. Many of the effects on the industry due to COVID-19 are factors that are known to increase fraud risk: Supply chain disruptions, changes in commodity prices, supplier relationships (which may need to be changed in response to shortages), and a lack of strong auditing and oversight. However, as of yet, we have not seen a sharp increase in public reports of food fraud.

This may be due to the fact that we are still in the relatively early stages of the supply chain disruptions. India reported recently that the Food Safety Department of Kerala seized thousands of kilograms of “stale” and “toxic” fish and shrimp illegally brought in to replace supply shortages resulting from the halt in fishing that occurred due to lockdown measures.

High-value products may be particularly at risk. Certain high-value products, such as botanical ingredients used in foods and dietary supplements, may be especially at risk due to supply chain disruptions. Historical data indicate that high-value products such as extra virgin olive oil, honey, spices, and liquors, are perpetual targets for fraudulent activity. Turmeric, which we have discussed previously, was particularly cited as being at high risk for fraud due to “‘exploding’ demand ‘amidst supply chain disruptions.’”

How can we ensure food sufficiency, safety, and integrity? FAO has recommended that food banks be mobilized, the health of workers in the food and agriculture sector be prioritized, that governments support small food producers, and that trade and tax policies keep global food trade open. They go on to say, “by keeping the gears of the supply chains moving and actively seeking international cooperation to keep trade open, countries can prevent food shortages and protect the most vulnerable populations.” FAO and WHO also published interim guidance for national food safety control systems, which noted the increased risk of food fraud. They stated “during this pandemic, competent authorities should investigate reported incidences involving food fraud and work closely with food businesses to assess the vulnerability of supply chains…”.

From a food industry perspective, some important considerations include whether businesses have multiple approved suppliers for essential ingredients and the availability of commodities that may affect your upstream suppliers. The Acheson Group recommends increasing supply chain surveillance during this time. The Food Chemicals Codex group recommends testing early and testing often and maintaining clear and accurate communication along the supply chain.1 The nonprofit American Botanical Council, in a memo from its Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program, stated “responsible buyers, even those with relatively robust quality control programs, may need to double- or even triple-down on QC measures that deal with ingredient identity and authenticity.”

Measures to ensure the sufficiency, sustainability, safety and integrity of foods are more closely linked than ever before. In this time when sufficiency is critical, it is important to avoid preventable food recalls due to authenticity concerns. We also need to stay alert for situations where illegal and possibly hazardous food products enter the market due to shortages created by secondary effects of the virus. The best practices industry uses to reduce the risk of food fraud are now important for also ensuring the sufficiency, sustainability and safety of the global food supply.

Reference

  1. Food Safety Tech. (April 24, 2020). “COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Mitigating and Preparing for Supply Chain Disruptions “. On-Demand Webinar. Registration page retrieved from https://register.gotowebinar.com/recording/1172058910950755596

*Foodborne transmission is, according to the Food Standards Agency in the U.K., “unlikely” and, according to the U.S. FDA, “currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”

Brian Sharp, SafetyChain Software
FST Soapbox

How Are Companies Impacted by Labor Shortages?

By Brian Sharp
2 Comments
Brian Sharp, SafetyChain Software

Food and beverage manufacturers are seeing the effects of the coronavirus when it spreads through their workforce. Recently, there have been multiple closures of facilities operated by meat processors, including Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods as COVID-19 has infected hundreds of workers.

The backdrop of stressful operations and work: Employees now face increased questions before entering plants and feelings of isolation as lunches and breaks are now solo activities due to social distancing. All of these stressors are compounded when you think about what we’re asking them to do: Go into work and keep food on the grocery store shelves. This is a completely new way to operate, and it has a very real emotional effect on our workers.

We’ve received reports from customers where management is getting out of the back office and putting on hairnets to work the production line. The shortage of workers is a very real problem, and our customers are rising to the challenge. Plus, managing this overall labor shortage while doing more safety and sanitation checks than ever before to make sure transmission risks are eliminated is putting stress on everyone working in plants. It’s never been harder to work in the food industry.

In response to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s actions related to the pandemic, we stand behind any effort that is taken to accommodate the needs of these vital, valuable workers, including the executive order to provide supplemental paid sick leave. Such actions, both locally here in California and at the federal level, are critical to elevating the safety of our food manufacturing and distribution workers. Some heroes wear hairnets.

Temp Workers and Lack of Training Protocols

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the availability of skilled workers in food facilities. Through all the layoffs stemming from the economic standstill, food manufacturers and grocery workers are reporting increases in hiring to help keep up with demand—and to mitigate the effects of sick employees going on quarantine for two weeks. For instance, Albertson’s, a large food grocery chain store, reported that it was hiring for 2,000 positions.

But hiring temporary workers is only half the battle. The task of training people who may have never worked in grocery or food manufacturing has become more critical in the face of new demands on sanitation and social distancing. With these measures in place, it’s no longer a case of a new employee showing up for work and shadowing another employee or supervisor. Technology can close the gap, especially in food production where the regulations and safety standards require strict adherence to processes. For example, software can facilitate shorter employee training in the areas of quality policies and good documentation practices.

Same Volume with Fewer Workers

We are working closely with customers and partners to cope with new guidelines for social distancing inside food facilities, providing the capability to do remote audits as visitor restrictions have increased. Our software is also being used to screen food manufacturing workers for symptoms of COVID-19 before shift work starts to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus to other essential workers.

In response to increased needs from customers, we have developed three solutions to address the impact of COVID-19. These solutions, which include a personnel screener, changeover manager and remote supplier auditor, can help food and beverage manufacturers efficiently manage physical distancing measures, symptom screening, and travel restrictions.

It can’t be stressed enough: The people who carry out food safety protocols are doing more checks and using more labor time to conform to regulations and guidelines for COVID-19. And, adhering to the systems, regulations and processes used to promote safe, high-quality products (in the same or even higher volumes) remains as crucial as ever. Simplifying these processes by leveraging software has been shown to cut 8 to12 hours of labor per day for a single facility. This is critical at a time when even one person being sick can cause lower throughput.

Plus, this isn’t like manufacturing a car where a line will be built to produce hundreds of thousands of cars over a two- to three-year period. Food manufacturers must often change a line over to produce a different flavor, package type or food type altogether, in as little time as possible to keep production going. Robots and automation can help, but in a crisis like this where immediate productivity gains are needed, software can make the much-needed difference.

Alert

Meat Shortage Threat, Facility Employees Can Still Work After Potential COVID-19 Exposure

By Maria Fontanazza
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Alert

–UPDATE April 29, 2020— Yesterday President Trump signed an executive order to keep meat and poultry processing facilities operational during the coronavirus national emergency. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the following in a USDA statement, “Maintaining the health and safety of these heroic employees in order to ensure that these critical facilities can continue operating is paramount. I also want to thank the companies who are doing their best to keep their workforce safe as well as keeping our food supply sustained. USDA will continue to work with its partners across the federal government to ensure employee safety to maintain this essential industry.”

–END UPDATE–

As critical infrastructure workers, employees at meat and poultry processing facilities have stayed on the job during the coronavirus crisis. Hundreds have fallen ill and many have died as a result; at least 100 USDA inspectors have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least one inspector has died, according to reports. Production facilities across the country have shut down over the past month, and the threat of a meat shortage is very close to becoming a reality, warns Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson. “In small communities around the country where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors. This means one thing—the food supply chain is vulnerable. As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” Tyson stated in a company blog. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

Hog and cattle producers are altering rations to slow the growth of livestock. In Iowa, the National Guard was activated to conduct testing and contact tracing of plant workers from Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing Company.

Meat production is on a 25% decline and by the end of this week, America could be entering a meat shortage, according to Dennis Smith, an Archer Financial Services commodity broker and livestock analyst.

Access the COVID-19 Resource CenterProtecting Essential Employees

“To ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community,” the CDC’s Critical Infrastructure Guidance states. The agency also notes that screening workers for COVID-19 symptoms is “an optional strategy”.

Meat processing workers are not exposed to COVID-19 through product handling; they can be exposed via close contact with other employees in a facility. The CDC and OSHA have released interim guidance for meat and poultry processing workers and employers that details how communal work environments should be laid out and how employers should be promoting social distancing. Engineering controls include the following:

  • Reconfiguration of workstations to allow employees to be six feet apart, if possible
  • Establishing physical barriers (i.e., plexiglass or strip curtains) to separate workers
  • Working with an HVAC engineer to establish proper ventilation that limits potential exposure to coronavirus; removal of any pedestal or personal fans
  • Setting up handwashing stations or hand sanitizer (60% alcohol) stations
  • Reconfiguring break rooms and other communal areas to promote social distancing

The CDC also recommends that workers wear cloth face coverings that fit over the mouth and nose.

For workers who have experienced COVID-19 symptoms and have self-isolated at home, the CDC advises they do not return to work until they meet specific criteria.

Read the CDC and OSHA interim guidance.

Carla Zarazir, Lebanese University
FST Soapbox

Coronavirus and Food Security

By Carla Zarazir
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Carla Zarazir, Lebanese University

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been quickly spreading across the globe, which triggered most affected countries to officially declare a state of public health emergency. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled this rather fast outbreak as pandemic. Food companies were urged to apply proper hygiene practices such as regular handwashing and surface cleaning to keep the risk of contagion at its lowest level.1 At the moment, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments for COVID-19 but no specific vaccine or medicine have been publicly made available, as of this writing.

COVID-19 belongs to a family of viruses that cause respiratory issues and can be passed on directly through contact with an infected person’s body fluids (i.e, cough or sneeze discharge) and indirectly, through contact with contaminated surfaces.2 But can the virus be transmitted through edible goods?

Coronavirus Transmission through Food
According to the CDC, there is no current indication to support the transmission of COVID-19 through food since, in general, it needs a living host on which to grow. However, sharing food and beverages, especially in public places, is discouraged. Moreover, good food safety practices are highly recommended, including refrigerating, keeping raw and cooked goods separated and heating food at suitable temperature (around 75 ̊ C).3

If the consumed food is hypothetically contaminated with the virus, the stomach acid (due to its acidic nature) will immediately inactivate it. In addition, COVID-19 cannot affect the body internally via the intestines. One rare exception to the previous statement occurs when the virus gets in contact with a specific type of respiratory cells.

According to food safety experts, foodborne illnesses are generally caused by bacterial cells that have the ability to grow in food and multiply rapidly within a short amount of time. On the other hand, viruses are dormant particles floating around living cells; only when they successfully breaks into the aforementioned cells, the multiplication process can take place.1,3

General Food Safety Advice for Food Businesses

Food manufacturers must follow good hygiene and safety practices to help ensure the consistent quality and safety of their products:4,5,6

  • Purchase raw material from reputable sources
  • Cook food thoroughly and maintain safe holding temperatures
  • Clean and sanitize surfaces (such as cooking boards, refrigerators handles, etc.) and equipment
  • Properly train staff in taking extreme hygiene measures
  • Employees showing signs of infectious illness must not attend work
  • Implement appropriate risk management strategies (e.g,. encourage social distancing and endorse online meetings when applicable)
  • Number of staff in a kitchen or food preparation area should be kept to a bare minimum
  • Space out workstations and food preparation areas, when possible

References

  1. World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus disease: advice for the public.
  2. Food Standards Australia & New Zealand. (2020). Novel Coronavirus and Food Safety.
  3. CDC. 2020. Food Safety and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
  4. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. (2020). Coronavirus Resource Center.
  5. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 2020. Coronavirus: no evidence that food is a source or transmission route.
  6. USDA.(2020). Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
Are Traasdahl, Crisp
FST Soapbox

Creating a Disruption Database in Response to COVID-19

By Are Traasdahl
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Are Traasdahl, Crisp

The spread and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been fast and furious across the globe.1 The toll on human life and the economy is being felt by everyone, everywhere. Closures of schools and restaurants, restrictions on social gatherings, the shift to working from home, and other social distancing practices have created sudden, unusually high demand spikes across a number of categories, particularly related to food.

COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Mitigating and Preparing for Supply Chain Disruptions | Attend  this complimentary webinar on-demandRepercussions from these dramatic demand surges are being felt across entire supply chains. Growers, producers, processors, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of all sizes are scrambling to fill immediate shortages.2,3 At the same time, foodservice operators are reassessing their needs in response to government mandated take-out/delivery-only service. Schools are consolidating preparation and pick-up points for breakfast and lunch programs, while on-campus foodservice venues have closed at colleges and universities. Food companies are scrambling to redeploy and redirect existing inventories, as well as forecast short and mid-term demand and production requirements in the face of an unprecedented situation.

In the first several days of disruption, the immediate response is all-hands-on-deck damage control. Rightfully so. But in the flurry of activity, it is critical that those responsible for demand forecasting document the disruption as it is happening. Why? Because sales history is the foundational input of sales forecasting algorithms. Outlier events, such as COVID-19, natural disasters, extreme weather, short-term international trade restrictions, etc., have the potential to distort demand trends if they aren’t recognized and weighted appropriately in forward-looking projections. Formally documenting extraordinary events allows organizations to:

  1. Explain unusual variances to history and/or forecast
  2. Create evergreen institutional knowledge (vs. relying on individuals, scattered notes, and memory)
  3. Build a “disruption database” that can be used to make fact-based overrides to algorithm-generated statistical forecasts when a similar disruption is predicted or occurs in the future.

These “disruption databases” could ultimately serve as the foundation for even more sophisticated disruption forecasting models. As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, these models could potentially be customized based on the type of event. Importantly, this annotation of events needs to occur within your forecasting platform so that it is permanent and visible to inform insights for all forecast users.

So, what information should you capture?

  1. Timing of the event
    • This includes specific days or weeks as well as information across the event lifecycle, including pre, during, and post event completion.
  2. Geography impacted
    • The scale of the event should also be noted. Some events are market-specific (i.e., the 2020 Nashville tornado), while others are state or region-specific (i.e. California wildfires, Hurricane Katrina) or result in national or global level impacts (COVID-19).
    • The ship-to locations of your customers relative to the disruption will influence the demand impact of the event.
  3. Customer gains & losses
    • During shortages, changes to current customer strategies should also be accounted for, such as potential volume reallocations. This could mean realignment of current customer distribution centers, temporarily not shipping to or losing specific customers, and/or even securing new customers based on your ability to supply when competitors cannot.
    • Customers may also shut down temporarily and/or delay previously scheduled new store openings. They may also reduce their hours of service and/or increase frequency of deliveries.4
  4. Channel shifts
    • The use of different channels in response to the event should also be captured. For example, in response to COVID-19, grocery retailers are seeing a significant increase in home delivery and click-and-collect orders.
    • Collaborate with your customers to quantify this shift. It may explain your volume trends (if your products are or aren’t typically purchased online) and/or suggest alternative product forms, packaging, etc. to meet both immediate needs and longer-term demand.
  5. Products impacted
    • This includes both items with demand spikes as well as those realizing unexpected demand declines. Shifts may also occur between product forms. For example, some consumer concern about bulk produce has been expressed with COVID-19 since the produce is manually stocked and shopped.5 While efforts are underway to dispel this misconception, it has impacted short-term demand for both the bulk items and their pre-packed counterparts.6,7
    • Adjacent, complementary and/or substitutable items should also be considered.8 Focusing short-term production on core varieties, cuts, forms, etc. vs. a complete assortment may allow a faster return to category (if not item-specific) in-stock levels.
  6. Ordered vs. filled quantities
    • Typically, sales reporting systems only capture what was shipped/invoiced, not what was ordered. Capturing and comparing both enables quantification of the demand “opportunity loss,” which could be factored into future “event” forecast models.
  7. Consumer sentiment and behavioral shifts
    • Specific to COVID-19, Nielsen IRI and Crisp DemandWatch have identified “phases” of consumer behavior and anticipated category purchase impacts. Noting when these phases occur in your forecasting system can provide insight into performance analysis and inform future projections. These consumer patterns may also have application to other extreme events, such as natural disasters.9,10
    • In the face of significant disruptions, look for, leverage, and annotate relevant consumer insights to inform the forecast. Link the annotation to a central archive of relevant research and data to expand access and understanding across your organization.
  8. Raw material, ingredient, packaging, labor or other sourcing issues
    • Note any shortages that impacted your ability to meet demand. Your ability to satisfy demand may be impacted by your own suppliers’ ability to get you the necessary inputs and/or your ability to staff production runs.
  9. Distribution & logistics issues
    • Access to truck, rail, and/or air transportation of products may also be disrupted by the event. Note any logistics constraints to delivering finished goods to customers.
  10.  Competitor activity/disruptions
    • New product launches, delivery systems, ownership, facility fires, labor shortages or disputes, weather patterns, and more that impact your competitors can also influence demand for your products, both in the short and long term.

In the heat of the crisis, this level of documentation may sound burdensome. Even if you start with notes on a scratch pad, email chains, and a collection of industry newsletters, set aside one morning or afternoon a week to annotate within your forecasting platform the factors that impacted demand that week. Continue to post notations in the week each specific disruption-driving factor begins and each week thereafter until its impact has dissipated. Keeping up with annotations as you go along will keep things fresher in your mind and can help inform immediate and near-term plans.

Disruption Database
Disruption databases can serve as the foundation for more sophisticated disruption forecasting models. As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, these models can be customized based on the type of event. (Figure courtesy of Crisp).

Don’t forget that pantry loading shelf-stable items early in a disruption may significantly impact post-disruption sales, as consumers work through inventory they have at home. Track this as well. Best-in-class forecasting platforms, such as the example shown in Figure 1, can effectively leverage advanced computing power and analytics to help visualize the impact of COVID-19 on supply and follow-on effects predicted to be felt in your markets. The disruption information you track can be gathered, organized, and analyzed along with trillions of data points from disparate sources to generate high-quality statistical demand forecasts and actionable insights with speed and precision.

When the dust settles on this current event, take the time to document other historical disruptions. Working in reverse chronological order, gather as much date-specific archived data and tribal knowledge as you can, and add it to the annotations in your forecasting platform. The next time a disruption occurs (and it will!), you will be equipped to draw on this “database of disruptions” to proactively predict and respond to future impacts on demand.

References

  1. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Fares, M, Baertlein, L. (2020). Factories shift operations in scramble to restock supermarket shelves. Yahoo! finance.
  3. Redman, R. (2020). Coronavirus: How leading grocery chains are responding to keep customers safe and shelves stocked. Supermarket News.
  4. Wells, Jeff. (2020). Grocers modify store hours to clean and restock amid panic buying. Grocery Drive.
  5. Naidu, R, Fares, M. (2020). Wary of coronavirus, U.S. shoppers skip the fresh produce aisle. Reuters.
  6. Ward, A. (2020). COVID 19 Coronavirus Prevention: A dozen things to know about leafy greens. California LGMA.
  7. Koger, C. (2020). No reason to avoid fresh produce during outbreak. The Packer.
  8. (2020) Nielsen Investigation: “Pandemic Pantries” pressure supply chain amid COVID-19 fears. Nielsen Insights.
  9. (2020) Key consumer behavior thresholds identified as the coronavirus outbreak evolves. Nielsen Insights
  10. (2020) IRI Brief – COVID-19: Impact on CPG and Retail. Retail Wire.
Coronavirus, COVID-19

Worker Safety a Concern as COVID-19 Affects U.S. Meat Plants, Supply Chain Uncertain

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment
Coronavirus, COVID-19

Employees at meat processing plants across the nation aren’t reporting to work as they fear for their health during the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of workers have become infected with COVID-19, and several deaths have been reported. There is no official count on the infection rate or how many employees have succumbed to the novel coronavirus, but the information released thus far is alarming. Demands for more protective equipment, along with hazard pay, may not be enough to keep workers safe; concerns over a meat shortage loom.

Tyson Foods

On March 31, Tyson Foods posted on “The Feed Blog” (the company’s blog) that it would be taking additional measures to protect and reward its frontline workers and truckers during the COVID-19 crisis: Protection in the form of “protective facial coverings for production workers who request them” and a reward in the form of a “one-time $500 bonus” to be paid the first week in July “based on their work attendance in accordance with our relaxed COVID-19 attendance policy during the months of April, May and June”.

Last week Tyson Foods issued a news release about the steps it is taking to further handle the COVID-19 problem at U.S. plants: At all facilities, workers are having their temperatures taken (temporal thermometers or infrared temperature scanners, depending on the location) prior to entering the plants; the company has increased deep cleaning and sanitizing, some of which will require the shutdown of at least one day of production. The release also states that Tyson Foods is implementing more social distancing measures, which includes putting up dividers between workstations and increasing space between workers on the plant floor.

The company’s measures come among serious concerns about the presence of outbreaks at various facilities. The New York Times reported about the deaths of three workers at a Tyson poultry plant in Camilla, Georgia, one of whom was allegedly told to return to work even after feeling symptoms of COVID-19. In Columbus Junction, Iowa, a Tyson pork plant closed after more than 24 employees tested positive for COVID-19. And according to the Benton-Franklin (Washington state) health district COVID-19 Case Count page, 30 people linked to the Tyson Fresh Meats plant have been diagnosed with the coronavirus as of April 13.

Cargill, Inc.

Last week Cargill closed a meat production facility in Hazleton, PA due to the high concentration of COVID-19 cases in the area. The facility has 900 employees, and it has been reported that some workers were staying home as a result of testing positive for coronavirus or out of concerns for their own safety.

JBS

JBS shut down its plant in Pennsylvania for two weeks; it shuttered its beef plant in Greeley, Colorado after at least 36 employees tested positive for the virus, and at least one death was reported. One representative for union workers stated 50 employees have tested positive and an additional worker has died. JBS issued a statement on Friday that it is offering free COVID-19 tests to all workers at the Greeley beef plant. The company also lists its policy on prioritizing team member health and safety on its website.

Smithfield Foods, Inc.

Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork processing company, employing 40,000 people in the United States. The company shut down its plant in Sioux Falls, SD indefinitely after more than 80 workers tested positive for COVID-19 (this particular accounts for 4–5% of pork production domestically and employs an estimated 3700 workers). “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods in a news release. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”

Several Smithfield Food workers in poultry plants across Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have also tested positive for the virus.

“We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” said Sullivan.

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
From the Editor’s Desk

COVID-19 in the Food Industry: So Many Questions

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

Industries across the global are reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. Although we are clearly not in a state of “business as usual”, the food industry is essential. And as this entire industry must continue to move forward in its duty to provide safe, quality food products, so many questions remain. These questions include: Should I test my employees for fever before allowing them into the manufacturing facility? What do we do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19? How can the company continue safe production? Should we sanitize between shifts on the production line? Should employees on the production floor wear face masks and shields? At what temperature can the virus be killed? The list truly goes on. We saw it ourselves during the first Food Safety Tech webinar last week, “COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Protecting Your Employees and Consumers” (you can register and listen to the recording here). Amidst their incredibly busy schedules, we were lucky to be graced with the presence and expertise of Shawn Stevens (food safety lawyer, Food Industry Counsel, LLC), April Bishop (senior director of food safety, TreeHouse Foods, Inc. and Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D. (vice president of food safety, United Fresh Produce Association) for this virtual event.

From a manufacturing point of view, we learned about the important ways companies can protect their employees—via thorough cleaning of high-touch areas, vigilance with CDC-recommended sanitizers, conducting risk assessments related to social distancing and employees in the production environment—along with the “what if’s” related to employees who test positive for COVID-19. Although FDA has made it clear that there is currently no indication of human transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through food or food packaging, some folks are concerned about this issue as well.

“The U.S. food supply remains safe for both people and animals. There is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response in the agency’s blog last week. “Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. This virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”

As the industry continues to adjust to this new and uncertain environment, we at Food Safety Tech are working to keep you in touch with experts who can share best practices and answer your questions. I encourage you to join us on Thursday, April 2 for our second webinar in this series that I referenced earlier, COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Enterprise Risk Management and the Supply Chain. We will be joined by Melanie Neumann, executive vice president & general counsel for Matrix Sciences International, Inc. and Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University, and the event promises to reveal more important information about how we can work through this crisis together.

We hear it often in our industry: “Food safety is not a competitive advantage.” This phrase has never been more true.

Stay safe, stay well, and thank you for all that you do.