Long before COVID-19, sanitation has always been a vital constant in food manufacturing. It’s become a point of pride for many food manufacturers, especially in the United States, where safety standards are among the highest in the world.
However, along with most every other industry, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted significant changes in manufacturing practices and how workers are kept safe. Fast forward to 2021, as the pandemic eases, many changes have become permanent in one form or another. While the devastation of the pandemic is undeniable, higher standards in food manufacturing have resulted, leading to a safer world for consumers and industry workers. Here’s a look at what has changed for the food manufacturing industry over the last year and where we expect the industry to go as the world recovers.
Navigating the Pandemic
The early days of the pandemic brought confusion into every aspect of consumer life. We were uncertain what the short-term and long-term implications would be. The first order of business was to determine transmission methods of the virus, and just as importantly, how it was not transmitted.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention quickly ruled out food as a source of spread. Follow-up studies continue to reinforce this finding. Still, expectations understandably skyrocketed as consumers began to scrutinize their everyday habits — from the doorknobs they touched to the packaging of their food.
Fortunately for food manufacturers, sanitation has been engrained in every fiber of the process, and the industry took immediate measures to ensure workers were given a stable, safe work environment, and all consumer fears were addressed. Much of the response boiled down to reinforcing best practices and adjusting standard operating procedures to promote greater degrees of intentionality around sanitization practices.
Here are a few major adjustments that took place:
- Surface cleaning was re-emphasized. While the coronavirus transmits mostly by air, it can linger on stainless steel surfaces for as many as three days. Stainless steel is one of the most common surfaces in food manufacturing due to its lack of porosity and ease of cleaning. Like most microorganisms, the coronavirus cannot survive in the midst of common cleaning chemicals. With new procedures written that promote more stringent and frequent cleaning cycles, food safety standards were elevated.
- Personal protective equipment was re-examined. Masks, gloves, and safety gear became imperative even in facilities where certain components such as face masks were not yet mandated. Face masks and other coverings are now commonplace in food manufacturing facilities. The rate at which gloves are cycled out during a day has increased to ensure personal hygiene and cross-contamination do not degrade the safety of our food. We expect these types of adjustments to remain even as this specific virus starts to pose little threat.
- Personal hygiene is imperative. Like the rest of the world, food manufacturers really upped their game when it came to frequently washing hands and using hand sanitizers as necessary. For food manufacturers, training was increased to drive home the importance of personal cleanliness in the workplace. The overall culture of cleanliness has changed in ways that will benefit the food industry and other businesses long after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.
What Is at Stake?
The precautions described above go a long way toward shoring up consumer confidence in the safety of their food, and it’s equally important in protecting our industry workers. Food manufacturing does not happen in silos, and employees work closely with one another to ensure products are made to the highest food standards. As such, facility workers were, and continue to be, at risk of personal infection.
The personal health of food manufacturing employees has a ripple effect that could lead to far-reaching production issues. Service disruptions were far more common at the height of the pandemic. Even minor outbreaks within a single company threatened to shut down operations. As we saw in 2020, dozens of food manufacturers were forced to temporarily close their doors to contain outbreaks. That alone rattled markets and made consumers nervous.
At the center of the most important supply chain in the world — food — workers in food manufacturing facilities could not afford to let their guard down. The vigilance that came out of the pandemic is good for the industry, as it trained businesses to be nimble, responsive and resilient. The lessons learned at the peak of closures continue to be applied in 2021 and beyond.
Reaching New Heights in Food Manufacturing Standards
COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for a movement that was already underway in food manufacturing. Now, we’re seeing stronger food standards at every level, such as the Food & Drug Administration’s Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), which outline obligations in detail.
As an example of changes from cGMP, surface cleaning (associated with removing soils) and sanitation (targeting microorganisms) have become separate tasks that must be completed every day. Regulations require that all equipment, machinery, belts, work surfaces, floors, walls and drains be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
Additionally, the FDA’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety” now acts as a blueprint to promote stronger food safety culture within its agency. That means giving inspectors the training and resources to better identify safety violations and to help promote a culture of food safety in food manufacturing facilities.
Why PacMoore Is a Leader in Food Safety Culture
As unpredictable as a pandemic was, PacMoore made conscious, daily changes to our organizational practice to ensure that we always adhere to the highest possible safety standards. Our manufacturing plants were among the first in the U.S. to achieve AA ratings for the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 7, a highly sought benchmark under the Global Food Safety Initiative.
We are forever committed to excellence in this area. We would love to walk you through our safety procedures and answer any questions. Contact us today to learn more about any of our food manufacturing services.