I’ve been reading about COVID-19 in food processing plants and getting very frustrated. The main frustration is how little we were prepared for something like this to happen and additionally how slow larger manufacturers are to make changes to protect their employees.
It is hard to stop and reflect and to take a pause especially when the food supply chain is struggling and your values demand that you get food to customers as quickly as possible. Remember that your values were also about getting high quality food to your customers too and that means ensuring that they and your co-workers are safe.
As a small food entrepreneur, what can you do differently from the larger food manufacturers? Being small means that you can pivot and change more easily. You know your employees as co-workers and you work alongside them. There is a good chance, that if they get sick, you will get sick too.
Make sure you are following CDC and OSHA guidelines on social distancing, face coverings, personnel health checks, sanitation of facilities, handwashing, etc. Here are some quick easy steps that you can implement to reduce the risk that you and your co-workers will get ill.
Personnel Health Checks
Do health checks with each co-worker every morning. Ask how everyone is feeling, check off COVID-19 symptoms, assure your co-workers that staying home sick IS NOT going to be punished. Common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of smell or taste
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Gastrointestinal illness (diarrhea)
- Check if your co-workers have been exposed to a person with symptomatic COVID-19 during the last 48 hours. This might not be a laboratory-confirmed disease, so it could be someone showing compatible symptoms as described above.
Provide working hand wash stations with soap, water, and paper towels. The water should be warm-hot, but the soap is the most important. Remember to wash your hands often:
- Before entering the production area
- When leaving the production area
- When changing tasks
- After using the toilet
- Before and after eating
- Touch your face
- Blow your nose
- Pick up something from the floor
- Touch a non food contact surface, like a door handle
These should be worn as a protection while recognizing that they need replacing regularly. They are not an excuse not to wash your hands.
Make sure you and your co-workers understand about how to wear, put on and take off masks. Wash hands before and after putting on your mask. Gloves should go on last. Masks should be replaced at a minimum daily and reusable masks must be washed.
Try to keep co-workers 6 feet apart or use screens between employees. If you put in screens make sure they are added to your master sanitation schedule to be cleaned and sanitized, at a minimum, after every shift.
- When hiring new coworkers, adapt your onboarding training to discuss COVID-19
- Remind current and new coworkers about handwashing, glove, and mask use
- New sanitation practices for the facility should be shared with your co-workers
Don’t forget to update your written Good Manufacturing Practices to reflect your new policies and practices.
I know this is all a bit overwhelming. There is so much information and we know there will be more guidance for food businesses in the coming weeks. You do not need to take this on alone. I am here to help you. Schedule your free food safety call today and we can chat about how I can support you getting through the noise so that you are following recommendations. This way you can concentrate on what you love; making great food.
Now, go wash your damn hands!