Though the spread through food is not evident yet, the food safety measures from farm to fork have increased worldwide. Many challenges are faced by the food industry to keep the food safety practices, which is requires as per the governing bodies of the respective countries, explain Rubeka Idrishi, Satyapriya, Sitaram Bishnoi, Monika Yadav, and Premlata Singh.

Since the beginning of 2020, the world is fighting the pandemic COVID19 – the novel Coronavirus. This unending cease to the normal functioning worldwide has given rise to a debate over “New Normal,” which applies to every sector, which supports the livelihood of all the species sharing some space at our mother earth. Be it us – the homo sapiens, the wildlife, the ecological habitat, marine life, and others. Among all this, the food supply chain is one of the most discussed ones, and ensuring food safety from farm to fork is one of the significant pillars. Right from the cultivation and harvest of crop, up to the consumers’ consumption, there is a certain degree of value addition in every product, and the role of food safety in this value addition can be of numerous types. As it goes from producer, to wholesaler, to a retailer, and finally to consumer, every stage needs some safe practices throughout.

Though there has not been single evidence found on the spread of Coronavirus through food, food package, or improper food safety measure, the retention time of novel Coronavirus on various articles such as plastic, paper, wood, metal, fiber, etc. was defined by World Health Organisation (WHO) in which the retention time varies from four hours to five days (Refer figure 1).

Fig 1: The retention time of Coronavirus on various surfaces, January 2020 (Source: World Health Organisation (WHO))

Though the spread through food is not evident yet, the food safety measures from farm to fork have increased worldwide. Many challenges was faced by the food industry to keep the food safety measures, which is requires as per the governing bodies of the respective countries. There are common challenges and their safety measures which have taken a rise since the inception of COVID19. The need for strict food safety measures is very much applicable to food handlers and consumers while buying food and other miscellaneous items from the stores at their homes while cooking and doing other household chores. United State Food and Drugs Administration (USFDA) and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has laid out plans and measures for food handlers as well as to the general population also, which are as follows:

For Food handlers

All the Food handlers and Food Business Operators (FBOs) are at major risk in consumers’ viewpoint because of the multiple contact points and perishable nature of the food. Various measures must be suggested for the challenges faced by all the food handlers by the governing bodies of the respective countries. These measures must be taken care of in the food processing or handling premises. It applies to all of them who, in any way, are coming in contact with any food material, be it a supply chain, cold chain, production, manufacturer, packaging, or reselling.

Responsibilities of FBOs

  • Establish a Local Emergency Response team and nominate a COVID-19 coordinator.
  • Establish a Local Emergency Response team and nominate a COVID-19 coordinator.

For personal hygiene of food handlers

  • There should be strict protocols of personal hygiene for all the members in the premises such as hand washing, face mask/ cover and clean protective clothing, gloves, respiratory hygiene, reporting of illness, quarantine and isolation, discontinuation of few protocols such as biometric/ fingerprint attendance, no sharing of belongings, etc., cleaning of premises after every use. FSSAI guidelines posters must also stuck at appropriate places (refer the link in the reference section for FSSAI and Centre for disease control (CDC), Atlanta Georgia posters)

Social distancing

 Everyone should maintain a minimum of one-meter distance in a food establishment, and to do this, FBO’s should do the following:

  • Restrict no. of employees to 3-4 in an area of 10 ft at any given point of time.
  • Reviewing the functioning lines and duties
  • Using spacing measures like stickers, tapes, and markers at required places
  • Restricting usage of common lockers, belongings, and face to face meetings.
  • Encouraging takeaways instead of dine-in.

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Special Instructions for different food handlers

For Food Services/Delivery/ Takeaways:

Important nodes such as food service area, handwash and sanitation facility, prevention of surface contamination, no open display, visual display, and pick up zones should be highly taken care of. Self-service, buffet, and mass gathering should be prohibited; eco-friendly disposable items, e-payments, e-wallets, online order, and contactless delivery should be encouraged.

For retail food premises

Clean uniforms and safety gears should be worn, and the customers’ inflow and outflow should be safely maintained constant by markings for social distancing, making announcements, Flexi glass barriers at checkout, rotating stock, and by taking appropriate sanitation measures.

For Food Transportation and Distribution

Appropriate training should be provided to all the people involved in food transportation for COVID19 symptoms and measures for prevention, cleaning and sanitizing the vehicles and deliveries, personal hygiene, maintaining relevant records and measures to be taken while cleaning a vehicle which had entered a red marked zone.

Apart from all these measures, it is encouraged that the owner of a food establishment should ensure basic ethical measures for their employees, such as not asking sick employees to come to work and sending suspected employees for the test rather than sending them home.

Cleaning and Disinfection parameters
Fig.2: Cleaning and Disinfection parameters of a food premises (Source: GFC May, 2020)

For Consumers

To help protect themselves, grocery store workers and other shoppers should keep a few things in mind:

  • Prepare a shopping list in advance. Buy just 1 to 2 weeks worth of groceries at a time. Buying more than you need can create unnecessary demand and temporary shortages.
  • Wear a face covering or mask while you are in the store. Some stores and localities may require it. Check your state, county, or city guidelines for any other requirements.
  • Carry your own wipes, or use one provided by the store to wipe down the handles of the shopping cart or basket. If you use reusable shopping bags, ensure they are cleaned or washed before each use.
  • Practice social distancing while shopping – keeping at least 6 feet between you, other shoppers, and store employees. Keep your hands away from your face.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds when you return home and again after you put away your groceries.
food safety figure 3

Fig.3: Posters released by FSSAI for customers and staff for safe practices to minimize the risk of COVID-19 (Published April 2020)

Again, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry as an extra precaution.

As always, it is important to follow these food safety practices to help prevent foodborne illness at the home kitchen:

  • Before eating, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. The scrub firm produces with a clean produce brush. For canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.
  • When unpacking groceries, refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables- like berries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms- within 2 hours of purchasing.
  • Regularly clean and sanitize kitchen counters using a commercially available disinfectant product or a DIY sanitizing solution with five tablespoons (1/3rd cup) unscented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water or four teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. WARNING: Do not use this solution or other disinfecting products on food.
  • Always keep in mind the basic four food safety steps — Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

As the food is a source of comfort, as well as nourishment for you and your family, especially now and this advice might help you continue to buy groceries with care and confidence.


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Conclusion

According to a study by Forbes, in which a team of experts collected and analyzed data generated for 200 countries around the world, it has been outlined that India stands far behind in safety measures adopted for combating COVID-19 than many of the countries such as Israel, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong who are amongst top 10 countries in COVID-19 overall safety ranking. For India, there is a huge scope for improvement in every sector. Food safety is the one that should be highly taken care of by accepting and implementing the guidelines provided by all the major governing bodies. FSSAI should be appreciated for its efforts to train every food handler and for the efforts done on awareness of the general population of India. Despite all these measures releasing continuously, there lies a huge gap between training small and petty food businesses, the uneducated population, and to the ones who are planning to resume their services but are confused about the guidelines. As always said, that “food safety is everyone’s business” it is a moral duty of each one of us who, in any way, acknowledge these guidelines and safety measures to guide people around us about the same.

References

  • Access the WHO guidelines here https://www.eurocoop.coop/uploads/content/WHO-2019-nCoV-Food_Safety-2020.1-eng.pdf
  • European Commission- Directorate-General of Health and Food Safety https://www.eurocoop.coop/uploads/content/Food%20Safety_COVID-19_Q-A.pdf
  • FORBES- Margaretta Colangelo, Deep Analysis Of Global Pandemic Data Reveals Important Insights, COGNITIVE WORLD, Apr 13, 2020,08:30pm EDThttps://www.forbes.com/sites/cognitiveworld/2020/04/13/covid-19-complexity-demands sophisticated-analytics-deep-analysis-of-global-pandemic-data-reveals-important insights/#45bd70b72f6e
  • FSSAI COVID-19 publications and press release of postershttps://fssai.gov.in/cms/coronavirus.php
  • FSSAI- FOSTAC partner Green Food Consultancy, Dr. Shantanu Gupta Training module on COVID19 guidelines for food handlers.
  • USFDA publications and press release of postershttps://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19