COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses

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COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses:

The world is facing an unprecedented threat from the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (referred to as the COVID-19 virus). Many countries are following the advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the introduction of physical distancing measures as one of the ways in which transmission of the disease can be reduced.

The food industry should have Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles in place to manage food safety risks and prevent food contamination. Food industry FSMS are underpinned by prerequisite programmes that include good hygiene practices, cleaning and sanitation, zoning of processing areas, supplier control, storage, distribution and transport, personnel hygiene and fitness to work – all the basic conditions and activities necessary to maintain a hygienic food processing environment. The Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene2 lay down a firm foundation for implementing key hygiene controls at each stage of the food processing, manufacture, and marketing chain for the prevention of food contamination.

If a food business has a FSMS and/or HACCP team established, the members of these groups need to be included in all discussions to ensure that new interventions are reviewed with food safety in mind. If a business does not have a FSMS and/or HACCP team established, then it needs to appoint one person responsible for considering whether food safety risks could arise from additional measures. This designated person must liaise with food safety authorities for advice. There is now an urgent requirement for the industry to ensure compliance with measures to protect food workers from contracting COVID-19, to prevent exposure to or transmission of the virus, and to strengthen food hygiene and sanitation practices.

The purpose of these guidelines is to highlight these additional measures so that the integrity of the food chain is maintained, and that adequate and safe food supplies are available for consumers.

Potential transmission of COVID-19 via food:

It is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and the primary transmission route is through person-to-person contact and through direct contact with respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

There is no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food; they need an animal or human host to multiply.

The most recent advice from the WHO3 is that current evidence indicates that COVID-19 virus is transmitted during close contact through respiratory droplets (formed on coughing or sneezing) and by fomites.4-10 The virus can spread directly from person-to-person when a COVID-19 case coughs or sneezes, producing droplets that reach the nose, mouth, or eyes of another person. Alternatively, as the respiratory droplets are too heavy to be airborne, they land on objects and surfaces surrounding the infected person. It is possible that someone may become infected by touching a contaminated surface, object, or the hand of an infected person and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. This can happen, for instance, when touching door knobs or shaking hands and then touching the face.

Recent research evaluated the survival of the COVID-19 virus on different surfaces and reported that the virus can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to four hours on copper, and up to 24 hours on cardboard.11 This research was conducted under laboratory conditions (controlled relative humidity and temperature) and should be interpreted with caution in the real-life environment

It is imperative for the food industry to reinforce personal hygiene measures and provide refresher training on food hygiene principles2 to eliminate or reduce the risk of food surfaces and food packaging materials becoming contaminated with the virus from food workers. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, can be effective in reducing the spread of viruses and disease within the food industry, but only if used properly. In addition, the food industry is strongly advised to introduce physical distancing and stringent hygiene and sanitation measures and

promote frequent and effective handwashing and sanitation at each stage of food processing, manufacture and marketing. These measures will protect staff from spreading COVID-19 among workers, maintain a healthy workforce, and detect and exclude infected food handlers and their immediate contacts from the workplace.
Although COVID-19 genetic material (RNA) has been isolated from stool samples of infected patients,10 there are no reports or any evidence of faecal-oral transmission. Handwashing after using the toilet is always an essential practice especially when working with food.

Food workers: awareness of COVID-19 symptoms:

For the purpose of this guidance food workers include food handlers, people who directly touch open food as part of their work. It also includes staff who may touch food contact surfaces or other surfaces in rooms where open food is handled. The term can therefore apply to managers, cleaners, maintenance contractors, delivery workers, and food inspectors.

WHO recommends that people who are feeling unwell should stay at home.12 Staff working in the food sector need to be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19. Food business operators need to produce written guidance for staff on reporting such symptoms and on exclusion from work policies. The most important issue is for staff to be able to recognise symptoms early so that they can seek appropriate medical care and testing, and minimise the risk of infecting fellow workers.

Common symptoms of COVID-1913 include:

• a fever (high temperature – 37.5 degrees Celsius or above)
• a cough – this can be any kind of cough, not just dry
• shortness of breath
• breathing difficulties
• fatigue

Food workers: preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the work environment

Staff working in food premises should be provided with written instructions and training on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Normal routine fitness to work procedures employed by food businesses as part of their FSMS should ensure that infected workers are excluded from food premises. Staff who are unwell or have symptoms of COVID-19 should not be at work and should be informed about how to contact medical professionals. This is imperative because if an infected worker handles food it is possible that they could introduce virus to the food they are working on, or onto surfaces within the food business, by coughing and sneezing, or through hand contact. In addition, in some cases, infected people may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and may not display any signs or symptoms of disease or may present with mild symptoms that are easily overlooked. Some infected people not yet displaying symptoms have been shown to be contagious and capable of spreading the virus.14-19 This underscores the need for all personnel working in the food industry, regardless of their apparent health status, to practice personal hygiene and appropriately use PPE. Food businesses need to introduce a high level of security and staff management to maintain a disease-free working environment.
Prerequisite Programmes must ensure that COVID-19 infected (symptomatic individuals and confirmed asymptomatic carriers) workers and their contacts (those with exposure to confirmed cases) are excluded from food premises. Staff who are unwell or who have any symptoms of COVID-19 should not work. A procedure to allow staff to report illness by phone (or email) should be established so that workers with early stages of COVID-19 can receive reliable information and be quickly excluded from work environments.
Food safety practices in food premises should continue to be delivered to the highest hygiene standards in line with established FSMS.

Good staff hygienic practices include:

• Proper hand hygiene – washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (follow WHO advice);20
• frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers;
• good respiratory hygiene (cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; dispose of tissues and wash hands);
• frequent cleaning/disinfection of work surfaces and touch points such as door handles;
• avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

Food workers: use of disposable gloves:

Gloves may be used by food workers but must be changed frequently and hands must be washed between glove changes and when gloves are removed. Gloves must be changed after carrying out non-food related activities, such as opening/closing doors by hand, and emptying bins. Food workers should be aware that wearing gloves can allow bacteria to build up on the surface of the hands, so handwashing is extremely important when gloves are removed to avoid subsequent contamination of food. Food workers should avoid touching their mouth and eyes when wearing gloves.

Disposable gloves should not be used in the food work environment as a substitute for handwashing. The COVID-19 virus can contaminate disposable gloves in the same way it gets onto workers’ hands. Removal of disposable gloves can lead to contamination of hands. Wearing disposable gloves can give a false sense of security and may result in staff not washing hands as frequently as required.

Handwashing is a greater protective barrier to infection than wearing disposable gloves. Food businesses need to ensure that adequate sanitary facilities are provided and ensure that food workers thoroughly and frequently wash their hands. Normal soap and warm running water is adequate for handwashing. Hand sanitizers can be used as an additional measure but should not replace handwashing.

More update download this WHO-2019-nCoV-Food_Safety-2020.1-eng


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