Food Safety Precautions in the COVID-19 Era and Beyond

Deadra Barnett
December 2020
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Food safety is paramount. Our food supply is the lifeline of our entire world and came as close to collapse as it ever has in living memory during the height of the COVID-19 emergence. Key steps are being taken to maintain the integrity of products being offered to customers as well as maintaining the safety of the people making those products. Camps should be aware of the following practices when choosing food suppliers and during food preparation at their own facilities:

  1. Know who and where your product is coming from. Food suppliers have robust supplier approval programs in place. This ensures that the vendors we purchase from are adhering to all applicable regulations and any necessary additional measures. Suppliers are vetted for good manufacturing practices, pest control, allergen control, quality control, and several other standards. Buying from vendors that uphold these standards will help ensure a safe, better-quality product.
  2. Don’t overlook or put aside known food safety hazards. It’s easy to forget known risks such as temperature control in the effort to maintain the new COVID-19 restrictions. Keep foods out of the danger zones. Maintain temperature requirements from receiving to serving.
  3. Sanitation. Sanitation. Sanitation. Sanitary conditions are known to be a key component of food safety. Keeping the standards high for cleanliness and sanitation is crucial now — and not just on food prep surfaces. The same cleanliness habits that minimize foodborne illnesses can minimize the cross-contact areas between associates as well, such as ensuring common areas and touch points are sanitized multiple times a day in every area of a facility in addition to stringent sanitation throughout the food-processing areas.
  4. Stress the importance of employee health. Many illnesses are foodborne. Standard practice for employees at food-processing facilities and camps alike should always be if you’re not feeling well, don’t report to work. This is now even more important. While studies currently don’t show COVID-19 being foodborne, your employees can absolutely spread it among themselves. Screening employees for temperature and symptoms via questionnaire at the door has become part of daily life at facilities. We’ve seen the results and fallout in the meat industry of how quickly the virus can spread within a group.
  5. Start with good product to end with good product. You can’t make treasure from trash, especially in fresh produce. To keep our products fresh, appetizing, and high quality for as long as possible, we have to start with quality raw ingredients. For example, cucumbers that are soft are not going to be servable just a few days out. Keep shelf life and ripeness guides in mind for produce items as well to keep product quality optimal at the serving point.
  6. Use individually packaged items to limit contact and congregation points. Individually packaged (IP) items have gotten a bad reputation in the reusability and sustainability department due to high volumes of waste where there are other alternatives. However, individually portioned items can decrease contact points throughout the serving line, and they are portable enough to ship, pack, carry, and deliver in several configurations.

In the current climate, worrying about a safe food source is the last thing any of us wants to do. Knowing our food is as safe and easily accessible as ever gives everyone a sense of security that we need right now.

Deadra Barnett is a project manager for DNO Produce.