As news about coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and mortality rates continue to evolve, many in the food and beverage industry are wondering what can be done to ensure workplace safety and employee health while also minimizing impacts on their business.
While uncertainty still remains over the extent of the virus’ impact on national and global food and beverage markets, the good news is that many businesses already have health and safety practices in place to help attenuate the spread of the coronavirus.
However, due to the transmittal mechanisms of the coronavirus, businesses in the food and beverage industry may want to reevaluate their current safety procedures and ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.
Federal Messaging on Food and Packaging Safety
In a February 27, 2020 statement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) titled Coronavirus (COVID-19) Supply Chain Update, the FDA noted that the agency is "not aware of any reports at this time of human illness that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging."
Although the statement may be reassuring for the food and beverage industry and its consumers, it does not diminish the risk of transmission posed by potentially infected workers handling food products.
Coronavirus Workplace Safety Procedures
A properly functioning food processing facility or restaurant should already have effective procedures in place to prevent the spread of pathogens. According to experts, some of those procedures should include:
- Preventing workers with symptoms of illnesses (like the coronavirus) from handling food or entering preparation areas.
- Ensuring workers decontaminate their hands using antimicrobial hand soaps instead of alcohol-based sanitizers.
- Decontaminating food surfaces which have been in contact with an infected individual.
It is important to note that individuals infected with the coronavirus may be asymptomatic and can spread the virus through their coughs, sneezes, and respiratory fluids while otherwise not showing outward signs of infection.
For more information on how employers can address workplace health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus (and maintain compliance with state and federal labor laws), read our previous article.
Responding to Food and Beverage Safety Issues
It is important to remember that state and federal health officials continue to emphasize that the overall risk to individual Americans remains low even as new cases of the coronavirus are diagnosed.
Still, the food and beverage industry would be wise to consider evaluating their workplace safety measures to ensure they meet current FDA guidelines on good manufacturing processes, sanitation standard operating procedures, and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans.
At DWT, we have an unparalleled team of food safety lawyers who commit themselves to this industry. We have handled over 1,000 food safety matters just involving viruses over several decades. If you have concerns or questions about your business and the coronavirus, we are here to assist.
The facts, laws, and regulations regarding COVID-19 are developing rapidly. Since the date of publication, there may be new or additional information not referenced in this advisory. Please consult with your legal counsel for guidance.
DWT will continue to provide up-to-date insights and virtual events regarding COVID-19 concerns. Our most recent insights, as well as information about recorded and upcoming virtual events, are available at www.dwt.com/COVID-19.