How FBOs are coping with COVID-19

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2020 will be remembered as the year the world changed. Social distancing, lockdowns and furlough becoming the new normal. Food manufacturing must be one of the most complex and most difficult places of businesses to control social distancing and ensure Staff, Visitors and food safety is protected. In this COVID-19 update, we share the best practices of the biggest companies in the UK and there approach to COVID-19 control.

These are the steps taken for best industry practice of COVID-19, all of this is the result of Senior Management commitment and buy-in as well as a multi-disciplined risk assessment analyzing the key touchpoints of people, much like a Hazard analysis in HACCP and identification of CCPs.

Personnel on site is the priority for the FBO to protect. Product safety is number two with regards COVID-19 as the risk to transmission to food and survival and infecting the Consumeris much lower.

Key Areas

The following are some of the steps the more proactive and forward thinking FBOs are taking:

Temperature – All Staff coming on site are automatically screened for temperature using infa-red pointed at the person’s forehead. This gives an instant result, those with a high temperature are not permitted to enter site.

Traffic Routes – This is in reference to people traffic. The best practice sites have adopted one way partitions, often physically segregated down a corridor with Perspex screens dropping from the ceiling. Prevention is always the best option, this includes shift staggering to minimise the number of people coming on site at once, staggered breaks and Supervising the people flow at all times. Visual aids include floor markings, dots and arrows.

Changing Rooms and Canteens – These are the real pinch points or critical control points! Staggering breaks, shift starts and finishes is key, but there are also other controls to consider. One way systems like in corridors, ensuring social distancing when sitting at breaks and probably the biggest challenge – ensuring social distancing in changing rooms. Often, this can be a crowded and rushed affair. Best practice is to ensure no rushing, managerial controls and presence is in place, a queue is formed (with distancing outlined by markings on floor) and only a certain number of employees can gain access at once.

PPE In food manufacturing, we are used to PPE – coats, boots, hair nets, mob caps, hard hats, high visibilities, overcoats, ear defenders/plugs, goggles, gloves, sleeves, beard snoods and sometimes hoods! In the UK, many operatives at greater risk or adjacent to other Personnel are also provided with Visors. Masks have not been worn in production areas at this time, Visors have been preferred.

Food Production Areas – Some sites have increased the size of their production lines where possible to ensure 2m social distancing spacing. Where this is not possible, sites have installed Perspex screens to separate people. Remember and include these on start up checks and glass/hard plastic registers! Other areas of FBOs are typically not as crowded as the production lines and therefore easier to manage.

Regular Handwashing and Sanitising – In all areas – extra signs, handwash and sanitising stations have been placed. For a food safety professional, this is always a good thing!

Food Safety – Although the COVID-19 transmission to food and infecting the consumer is understood to be low at the moment, it is the MFS recommendation that any stock – RMs, WIP or FP is disposed of if there is any risk that a suspect individual has come in to contact with any food material or food contact utensil/kit.  Any additional Perspex or glass must be foreign body risk assessed and considered on a hard plastic register. This includes Visors. Additionally, any fabricated Perspex, brackets, chains near production areas can become wet and have trap points – this is a micro risk. Sound cleaning and disinfection must be in place.

In the event of Symptoms – All Staff are encouraged to report symptoms immediately, this reporting mechanism and the COVID-19 symptoms are communicated on notice boards, newsletters and team briefings. The individual and all members of the house hold must then be tested and if positive must self isolate for 7 days once symptoms have passed. If an employee is found with symptoms on site, he/she will be sent home (pending disciplinary) and the person’s movements will be traced – anyone in close vicinity of the individual will be sent home to self isolate – mainly those who may work in the same area i.e. production line.

All areas of the FBO must be deep cleaned and management positively released, if any food handler or member of the site team is known to have symptoms.The clean must include a regular food manufacturing deep clean – AND attention to key touchpoints – door handles, walls, frames, bannisters, handwash sinks etc.

Visitors – Visitors and Auditors in the best practice UK sites are not permitted to be on site. This includes customers and suppliers. Only essential works, Contractors are permitted. Some audits are being carried out remotely by use of Zoom/Teams/Skype. It is the MFS view that a factory inspection audit cannot be effective in this way and should not happen.

Pregnant Women – Best practice UK sites are not allowing pregnant women on site, with 80% furlough government pay.

Business Risk(s) – Some food businesses have seen increased volumes during the new normal, due to Consumer habits drastically changing. Other businesses have suffered markedly. In the case of larger groups, some businesses have shut down some manufacturing sites, consolidating their business in fewer manufacturing sites – meaning reduced overheads. All meetings with external individuals – suppliers/customers and other colleagues located in different areas, occur over zoom/teams. All office staff are working from home. The Quality team, production team, engineering and hygiene teams must be on site.

Finally . . .

FBOs must adapt to the new normal to survive COVID-19. In business, as with life, it is those who adapt and change that survive. There have been examples of FBOs in the UK that have been forced to shut for a certain amount of time because of a localised outbreak of COVID-19. This can be avoided with the right education, communication, commitment and forward planning from an FBO.  Very similar to food safety . . .  . .