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The closing of businesses because of the COVID-19 shutdown has been devastating to the economy and to citizens who now have no means of providing for their families. For those business owners with enough money to stay afloat, this time has been an opportunity to re-tool, re-focus and determine how best to proceed in this new environment. Another group of businesses, meat and poultry processors, for example, hasn’t had down time because they have continued operating. Some have even experienced massive increases in the demand for their products. Although the demand for food has increased significantly, worker illness has made it difficult for companies to respond. Employers in the meat and poultry industries are having to readjust and realign, while continuing to provide the products their consumers are desiring.

Employee Safety

The COVID-19 pandemic has required that we do business in novel ways. There has been a shift, specifically in the area of safety. As a result, employee safety programs have been forced to evolve. The purpose of an employee safety program is to ensure safe and healthful working environments for employees. The focus is typically on preventing accidents and illness caused by events or conditions within the work environment. Now, employee safety has expanded to include new threats from without, such as the Coronavirus. A comprehensive prevention program should include screening employees for symptoms of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control has published mitigation activities for workplaces, which outline recommendations to help businesses manage the COVID-19 situation. The CDC offers specific advice based on the level of transmission in the community where a business is located. One instruction is to “Consider daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g. temperature and respiratory symptom screening) of staff and visitors entering buildings (if feasible).” By following this guidance, management can identify any employee who might be ill or have a fever (often the first sign of COVID19 infection), before they enter the work facility. Conducting employee screening at multiple facility entry points is also recommended.

Measuring employee temperature may seem like a daunting task, especially with large employee populations. However, a well-outlined, detailed process, along with the right tools, will help management to avoid problems in the long run. Several meat processing plants have temporarily closed their facilities due to COVID outbreaks. Some have even closed multiple locations. Tyson Foods, JBS and Perdue are just a few of the companies that have instituted new policies and procedures to mitigate the spread of the virus. Tyson and Perdue have begun taking employee temperatures, providing face coverings and creating more distance between workers on production floors and in rest areas. Both companies have also made facility changes, such as creating partitions to separate workers. The partitions which Perdue utilizes are made from either Plexiglas or stretched plastic bags.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, is charged with developing and enforcing standards which protect employee health and safety. OSHA standards cover most private and some public sector employers. Guidance for preventing the spread of Coronavirus within the workplace has been written, and recently updated, to include additional recordkeeping requirements. OSHA makes it mandatory for companies with more than 10 employees to report any incidence of COVID-19 transmission which falls under the following criteria:

  • The case is confirmed as COVID-19, according to CDC guidelines.
  • The case is work-related, as defined by OSHA 29 CFR - standard number 1904.5.
    https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1904/1904.5
  • The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in OSHA 29 CFR - standard number 1904.7, which include death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care provider.

An employee has the right to request that their name be omitted from the company’s injury and illness log, however.

Food Safety

Questions regarding food safety have come to the forefront during the pandemic, as consumers have pondered whether COVID-19 can be spread through food. Medical professionals maintain that the Coronavirus poses no risk to the food supply, which is good news. However, we know the food supply is always at risk of being impacted by poor hygiene and inadequate handling. There are three U.S. government organizations responsible for protecting the food supply: The Centers for Disease Control manages food outbreaks; the Food and Drug Administration regulates all foods except meat and poultry (80% of the food supply); the United States Department of Agriculture regulates meat and poultry. Guided by food safety regulations, these organizations aim to protect consumers from illness caused by bad food. This is no small feat, when each year, roughly 48 million Americans get sick and 3,000 die from foodborne pathogens. The creation of modern food safety regulation began in 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed. The Meat Inspection Act was also passed during this time. This legislation was passed in response to the abhorrent conditions in food processing plants, brought to light by Sinclair Upton’s book, “The Jungle”.

With the passing of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2010 (It became law on January 4, 2011.), the federal government made the shift from responding to foodborne outbreaks to preventing them. The FSMA covers five focus areas: Prevention; Inspection and Compliance; Response; Imports and Enhanced Partnerships.

In the area of prevention, the FSMA requires adherence to specific guidelines, such as the requirement for food facilities to develop and implement preventive controls plans. The plans must include the following: an analysis of the potential food related hazards; an outline of the steps and controls that will be implemented to reduce or prevent the hazards; methods for monitoring and documenting the controls; and a blueprint for the measures which will be taken to address any failures. The second prevention initiative requires the FDA to establish standards for the production and harvesting of produce. The standards address managing natural hazards, as well as those caused by an individual’s intentional or unintentional actions. Likewise, the impact of temperature controls, soil additives, worker hygiene, packaging, water, and animals in the growing area, must also be considered. The last element of the prevention effort authorizes the FDA to implement strategies which guard against intentional food contamination.

See the new FSMA COVID-19 guidelines. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/whats-new-fsma

See the new FSMA Food Safety Dashboard. https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-launches-fda-track-food-safety-dashboard-track-fsma-progress

Supply Chain

In the food supply chain, controlling and monitoring temperature is crucial to disease prevention and adherence to the Food Safety Modernization Act. There are countless real world examples of missteps in protecting consumers from foodborne illness. The FDA investigated sixteen outbreaks in 2019 – all caused by pathogens such as listeria and salmonella. This year, there have already been three outbreak investigations, the most recent taking place in June. Chilling meat and poultry after processing, and maintaining the appropriate temperature (40°F or below) during storage and transport, will slow the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Temperature monitoring devices like data loggers help to reassure meat and poultry producers that their products are safe for consumers to ingest. Using data loggers during food storage and transport provides valuable documentation, to support adherence to regulations, as well as any claims which could arise due to spoiled food shipments. Data loggers should be utilized at every point in the supply chain, from processing plants to retail grocery stores or restaurants. At every step of a food product’s journey, shippers must be able to validate that the correct temperature is maintained. Data loggers are used to support this validation.

There a few key features that should be included on a checklist when considering what data loggers to purchase. First, loggers should have imbedded software, giving producers and receivers quick, easy access to trip data using smartphones or by downloading PDF or CSV reports. This feature eliminates the need to purchase a separate software package. The ability to customize certain logging parameters like the sample interval, for example, is very important, because customer requirements may vary. Perhaps the most important feature to look for is a guarantee. With so much responsibility, the last thing a shipper needs to worry about is whether the device was actually activated before the trip began. A logger that records trip data, even when it has not been activated, is priceless. DeltaTrak data loggers offer these features and more with Model 40443 for domestic shipments and Model 40457 for exporting.

References

“Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for Covid-19,” OSHA.gov, March, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

K. Skinner, “10x Genomics Becomes First One Medical Customer to Deploy Cohort-Based COVID-19 Employee Testing,” One Medical, May 19, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://investor.onemedical.com/news-releases/news-release-details/10x-genomics-becomes-first-one-medical-customer-deploy-cohort

K. Martin, “Meat Suppliers Implement Additional Safety Measures,” Winsight Grocery Business, April 9, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.winsightgrocerybusiness.com/fresh-food/meat-suppliers-implement-additional-safety-measures

“Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)”, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), May 19, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.osha.gov/memos/2020-05-19/revised-enforcement-guidance-recording-cases-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

Dr. D. Detwiler, “Understanding the Basics of Food Safety Regulations,” Northern University, February 15, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/understanding-basics-food-safety-regulations/

“Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness,” U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), June, 19, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.fda.gov/food/recalls-outbreaks-emergencies/outbreaks-foodborne-illness

“Transporting Meat and Poultry,” The Meat We Eat.com, May 30, 2017. [Online]. Available: https://meatscience.org/TheMeatWeEat/topics/article/2017/05/30/transporting-meat-and-poultry

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Temesa Lewis is a Marketing Communications Writer with DeltaTrak, Inc. Her professional background includes roles in sales/account management, human resources and training.

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