1. Understanding COVID-19

Recorded March 23, 2020

1. Understanding COVID-19

53 Minute Webinar

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Webinar Notes

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a new contagious virus that causes a severe respiratory infection in humans, first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. Initial investigation has linked the disease to a large seafood and animal market in China (although not clinically confirmed), and now it is spreading mainly from person-to-person. Comparison of genetic analyses suggests that this virus emerged from a virus related to SARS.

Because it is similar to SARS, it was identified as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” or SARS-CoV-2. In most cases, COVID-19 causes infection or pneumonia in both lungs and even death.

Transmission through Food

So far, there are no scientific evidences and no mention of food transmission. Furthermore, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. According to CDC, there is no current evidence to support transmission of novel coronavirus associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.

Transmission through Drinking Water

With regards to drinking water, the virus has not been detected in drinking water samples. In general, the conventional water treatment methods such as filtration and disinfection should remove or inactivate the COVID-19 virus. Most of the information to-date though is based on past experience with other coronavirus outbreaks and this new virus could always surprise us.

Hence, vigorous enforcement of good hygiene practices, GMPs and validated kill-steps are vital in a food processing environment. It is critical to follow the four key steps of food safety: clean, separate, cook, & chill.

It is also important to ensure that the staff are trained appropriately in food hygiene procedures and that facilities be provided, including hand sanitizers, hand washing stations and toilets, enabling staff to practice good hygiene. It is also important to remain vigilant and follow sick employee rules strictly.

Related Questions

According to the FDA, “Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.”

However, there is new data to suggest that the COVID-19 virus can survive a few hours on contact surfaces or objects. Hence, a vigorous enforcement of good hygiene, sanitation, and GMPs are vital in a food processing environment. Additionally, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill. In general, common disinfectants can kill COVID-19 virus. Please check the EPA-registered disinfectant products on the Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 list that have qualified under EPA's emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Doremalen at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and her colleagues at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, have done tests to see how long COVID-19 virus can last on different surfaces. Their study published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” shows that the virus could survive in droplets for up to three hours after being coughed out into the air.

Additionally, this study found that the COVID-19 virus survives for longer on

  • Cardboard, up to 24 hours
  • On plastic and stainless-steel surfaces, up to 2-3 days

However, the researchers found that COVID-19 virus can last only for about four hours on copper surfaces. The results provide key information about the stability of COVID-19 virus on different contact surfaces such as door handles, plastic-coated or laminated worktables.

The ability of the COVID-19 virus to survive on various contact surfaces reiterate the importance of good hygiene, cleaning and disinfection practices. Research has shown that coronaviruses can be inactivated by disinfecting surfaces with 60% alcohol, or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide bleach or household bleach containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite. For a complete list of chemical disinfectants, visit the EPA website .

The use of good hygiene practices, coupled with GMPs, are vital in a food processing environment. It’s critical that the food supply chain has these practices in place and that your commitment to supporting them is stronger than ever.

Good Hygiene Practices

Based on research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, we know that the virus could survive in aerosol droplets for up to three hours after being coughed out into the air. Additionally, this study found that the COVID-19 virus survives for longer on cardboard (up to 24 hours) and even longer on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces (up to 2-3 days). However, the researchers found that COVID-19 virus can last only for about four hours on copper surfaces. The results provide key information about the stability of COVID-19 virus on different contact surfaces such as door handles, plastic-coated or laminated worktables.

Manufacturers need to ensure that the staff are trained appropriately in food hygiene procedures and that facilities are provided, including hand sanitizers, hand washing stations and toilets, enabling staff to practice good hygiene. It is also important to remain vigilant and follow sick employee rules strictly.

Good Manufacturing Practices

GMPs are the foundation of any good food safety program. Our Food Safety Essentials training offers online, entry-level support for learning and the application of the basic concepts of GMPs. Written by food safety professionals for frontline workers, Food Safety Essentials reduces the time spent scheduling and budgeting training with an automated system that instantly records and updates your training records. With this bilingual training, your QA technicians, maintenance crew, line workers, temporary workers, and hourly personnel will all be on the same page. 

It’s important that staff are trained and using food hygiene procedures, which is the best way to keep them healthy. Additionally, it is advised to re-double the cleaning and sanitation of all the frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs.

If an employee becomes ill, follow your employee policies and procedures closely. Employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, while maintaining the confidentiality of that individual. The sick employee should stay home until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others. Employers should consult with their local health department for additional guidance.

Employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality. The sick employee should stay home until he or she feels better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others. Facilities are advised to re-double their cleaning and sanitation efforts, while employers should consult with the local health department for additional guidance.

As far as the food supply is concerned, there are several important pieces of information that businesses need to be aware of:

  • There is no evidence of food or food packaging being involved in transmission of the disease. This is not a foodborne illness and it is not known to be transmitted via food.
  • The presence of a sick employee does not require product to be either recalled or held.  

U.S. Food Supply Chain Industry Update

Numerous activities are happening rapidly to support continued delivery of safe high-quality food during the Coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. In the past week, many regulatory and public health agencies including FDA, USDA, FEMA, DHS, CDC and the executive and legislative branches of government have been in close contact with industry stakeholders and are communicating actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

During this time of uncertainty, it is important to note that consumer trust in our food supply is of utmost importance. Especially as COVID-19 puts a strain on the US healthcare system, it is imperative that foods available to consumers remain safe for consumption and that no further burden is added due to foodborne illness. Accomplishing this will require extra vigilance on the part of food growers, producers, and distributors during this crisis.

To that end, those who are working at home and those working in food production facilities or the food supply chain are strongly encouraged to follow CDC recommendations to reduce person to person transmission of this virus.   

Teleworking

The severity and duration of the impact of COVID-19 depends directly on travel restrictions and social distancing effectiveness. For those able to telework, stay at home, practice social distancing (six feet apart), and help flatten the epidemic curve by reducing person-to-person transmission of the virus (CDC).

Essential Empoloyees

For essential workers in the food supply chain, which includes ingredient and packaging manufacturers, production facilities, and transportation, sanitation. Food production and supply activities are considered critical infrastructure and are therefore it is crucial to maintain production to meet consumer food supply needs. In these situations, reducing person to person transmission using enhanced sanitation and mindful practices are critical.

Supply Chain Issues

  • Low stocks of some items reflect demand, not supply. There are no food shortages and manufacturers and retailers are working around the clock to replenish shelves.
  • FDA is working to monitor the food supply chain and to ensure food workers can get to and from their jobs despite any local travel restrictions, since the agriculture and food industry is considered critical infrastructure under homeland security laws.
  • DHS has issued Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce

FDA Inspection resources are being prioritized, which means that:

  • Foreign facility inspections are postponed through April;
  • Domestically, routine surveillance inspections will be postponed; and,
  • Only for-cause or mission-critical inspections will be carried out, e.g., inspections in connection with a foodborne illness outbreak, a Class I recall or COVID-19.

Work is underway to divert perishable products from food service and restaurant channels to retail and grocery channels to avoid waste and adequately supply the increase in demand currently being experienced.

FDA is aware of limited availability of supplies like hand sanitizer, touchless thermometers, and paper supplies and are working to resolve these limitations.

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Additional Resources

FDA

COVID-19 food safety technical questions & FAQs

Companies experiencing supply chain issues (FEMA National Business Emergency Operations)

Temporary Policy: Preventive Controls & FSVP Food Supplier Verification Onsite Audit Requirements During COVID-19

EPA

List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2
Note that disinfectants must be compatible with those considered acceptable for food contact surfaces.

United States

CDC
Social distancing, environmental cleaning and disinfection recommendations, symptoms and testing, caring for someone who is sick

USDA

COVID-19 questions and issues for those in under purview of USDA: foodsupplychain@usda.gov

Global

World Health Organization (WHO)
Daily situation reports
Worldwide current case numbers and studies in progress