The COVID-19 coronavirus has shone an unhelpful light on numerous areas of our lives, to the point where it feels like nothing will ever be the same again.
Cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops are operating strict new regimes in the battle to stay open, and our schools will be the next to adapt, with pupils across the country due to return in a little over a week’s time (see our blog full of hints and tips on how they can do that effectively).
Food manufacturing, on the face of it, has been one of the winners of the pandemic, as holed-up consumers have spent money on home-cooking provisions like never before. However, there is another side to this, as recent national news reports about the Midlands’ Greencore manufacturing site which makes sandwiches for Marks & Spencer, showed. Several hundred of its workers contracted COVID-19 and have had to self-isolate, a stark example of how the spread of COVID-19 has placed such sites on the highest of alerts.
In fact, all over the world, there have been numerous incidents which have seen thousands of food production workers coming down with the illness, with the obvious consequences for the confidence levels of businesses and consumers buying their products.
Why are food production sites so vulnerable? “It’s a mix of factors,” said our Sales and Marketing Executive Christopher Elliott. Meat processing plants, for example, are often cool, wet sites with a lot of moisture, and therefore a perfect breeding ground for diseases like COVID-19. Most food manufacturing sites also have high footfall, with high numbers of operatives working in close proximity to one another, for lengthy periods of time.”
However, while the risk is undoubtedly heightened at the moment, it’s not all doom and gloom and such plants can minimise their infection risk by adopting best practice when it comes to hygiene, and adapting their existing strategies to meet the increased requirements of COVID-security.
Six vital steps for food processing factories battling COVID-19
- Check your hygiene strategy is robust. You should already have a sound hygiene strategy in place which includes documented cleaning schedules for all areas of your plant. This strategy should also include COSHH (control of substances hazardous to health) reporting forms, more recently referred to as MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets); clearly-designated team roles and responsibilities; colour-coded cleaning equipment for use in different areas; personal protective equipment (PPE) for designated tasks and cleaning chemicals which are fit for purpose
- Review your PPE: We would advise reviewing your PPE guidelines for employees, from a COVID-19 perspective. You’re no longer just protecting against the usual contaminants to meet food standards requirements, your over-riding priority now is to prevent cross-infection between the high numbers of staff on your premises. This will mean considering additional items like face masks and visors. Once you’ve identified which PPE is right for your business, you need to adopt your communications, policies and procedures to ensure your team wear their PPE at all times, particularly if social distancing is a challenge
- Be prepared to be flexible. For example, stocks of PPE have been impacted by the pandemic and – while we can still source all the items you could need – you may need to consider alternative ones, in different colours for example, to fill gaps when your usual ones are unavailable. Always check with your trade governing body – such as SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – before deciding to change your colours, though, to ensure you remain compliant. In our experience, they will always appreciate you using something rather than nothing, even if it’s not your usual item
- Review your chemical stocks. You need to ensure that the items you are using balance food safety with the necessary properties to kill the coronavirus
- Carry out a specific, COVID-secure risk assessment. You are likely to have significant numbers of employees and, while they no doubt work on production lines where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, it may be possible to limit the amount of contact your people have with one another by reconfiguring things like the flow of employees around your site, and how you manage any shared facilities like canteens. If you haven’t already, do a fresh risk assessment of your site and identify where your problem areas are, and the mitigative steps you need to take to overcome them, from extra cleaning of touch points to one-way systems. Our Guide to getting COVID-secure can help you with this process
- Don’t forget to communicate. The positive steps you’re taking will provide reassurance to your employees and customers that you have things under control and are looking after their best interests. This will help to build and maintain their confidence in your business and its products. Odd though it may sound, how you communicate in a crisis can actually help build your reputation and customer loyalty if you do things right.
At your service, when it comes to PPE
Supplies of kit that has been rendered critical by COVID-19 – from hand sanitiser to personal protective equipment – has been one of the greatest challenges of the pandemic. In fact, the availability of different items is in constant flux as trends in combating the virus change.
However, having spent several months at the beginning of the crisis moving mountains to source items like gloves, visors and face masks we can now provide our customers with this essential equipment. If supplies do run short, we have the networks and nowse to take the stress off your shoulders and find you what you need. However, you may need to work with us a little and think outside the box, flexing your usual colours, for example, to reflect what’s in stock at a particular time.
Chris added: “PPE has been perhaps the biggest issue because the need to prioritise the requirements of frontline healthcare providers has reduced the availability of certain items.
“Food manufacturing sites need things like hair nets, beard covers, mobcaps, disposable gloves and aprons, cover-alls and overshoes, and supplies of such things have been critically low at times over the last few months. In addition to the unprecedented demand, some manufacturers have diverted certain lines into making other things that are constructed of the same material, resulting in critical shortages elsewhere.
“We would say to any companies needing help with navigating these challenges, ‘get in touch and let us take the strain for you’. We can help with all the logistics around hygiene and managing risk within any business – including a COVID-specific strategy.”
If you represent a food manufacturing business and need help with ensuring COVID-security, don’t hesitate to get in touch and let us support you through that process, via 01482 327580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.