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Coronavirus’ impact on the food industry

Posted: 14 February 2020 | | No comments yet

The number of individuals infected with the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to climb on a daily basis as does the number of deaths associated with it. Many of TAG’s clients have asked what should be done to prepare for a growing number of cases in the United States.

Coronavirus US food industry

As we look at this situation and advise our clients on how to prepare for more Coronavirus cases in the US, we think about several different impacts.

The first is whether there is any evidence that the virus is able to transmit via food. The short answer currently is that the virus is not being transmitted via food or water. But we do know that in some cases infected individuals get diarrhoea and that the stool samples have the virus present. Thus, there is a possible faecal-oral transmission route. Keep in mind that the virus will infect a person if it comes into contact with nose, eyes or mouth; so, if you are operating a foodservice facility, you should undertake a deep clean if infected individuals are known to have been in your establishment.

It appears that the virus can survive on a surface for a day or two and in carpet or fabrics for up to a week. However, current data indicates that the virus is destroyed by bleach and hydrogen peroxide, so it does not appear to be resistant to normal cleaning agents.

The second consideration is what to do if someone in your workforce has been to China or has become infected with COVID-19. Our advice is simply to work closely with the local health departments and follow CDC advice. Obviously, you want to control spread, and if we see more cases in the US I suspect that there will be a lot more information and advice on how to prevent spread. The good news is that currently spread appears to be occurring only through fairly close contact.

The third point is the impact of COVID-19 on your supply chain, given the huge impact on China. As we have seen from the beginning, the Coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on imports from China, and because of the unprecedented measures the Chinese and other governments are taking to control the outbreak, there have been significant disruptions to supply chains around the world. This can be particularly critical if you have been using a China supplier as your sole source for a product or ingredient.

Coronavirus imported infection

The country’s lockdown on the Hubei area, extending of the Lunar New Year holiday, and shutdown of many factories and businesses is impacting the availability and movement of goods as well as people. It does seem, however, that such actions are serving to help contain the virus. As stated by safety and security solutions provider NC4, most cases outside of mainland China have been imported infections. There have been scattered cases of local human-to-human transmission, but most are directly linked to imported cases, and it is not believed that the Coronavirus is actively spreading in local populations outside of China.

The concern about supply chain is significant for the food industry, particularly the hidden dangers of having to rush into sourcing from other places that you may not have time to fully assess; the difficulty in getting product from overextended suppliers outside of China; the lack of ingredients that come only from China due to economics; and even any planned travel to China to inspect a provider’s facility or bring on a new supplier. And that doesn’t even factor in the impact on businesses that have their own facilities in China.

So, what can and should you be doing?

Of high importance at this point, is reviewing your entire supply chain for any products, ingredients, or supplies from China; particularly those for which China is your sole source. NC4 is projecting that the current closures in China are likely to be extended again, so even if you are fully stocked in a product or ingredient today, we don’t know how long the restrictions will last. And once the businesses and borders reopen, it will take time to get back to up to speed and fill back orders.

If you do need to add a new supplier quickly, do as much investigation and assessment as possible in the time you have. Also, make sure they can fulfil your needs, so you don’t end up with further shortages and have to find another additional supplier.

Although our primary goal with these articles is to provide information and education, not be a “sales pitch,” I believe this situation warrants my extending TAG’s offer to assist. No one could have predicted the Coronavirus outbreak or the extent of its impacts, and having to deal with this new type of health risk and find a new product or ingredient source virtually overnight is not only challenging, it is fraught with risks. TAG has the experience, expertise, and tools to not only help mitigate supply chain risk, we can provide the insights and guidance to ensure any new (or current) supplier is in compliance with regulatory and non-regulatory standards.

About the author

Dr Acheson is the President and CEO of The Acheson Group. As an Associate Professor at Tufts University, he undertook basic molecular pathogenesis research on foodborne pathogens, especially Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. In September 2002, he became the Chief Medical Officer at the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. He was appointed as Associate Commissioner for Foods. In 2013, Dr Acheson founded The Acheson Group, a consulting firm which provides strategic advice as well as recall and crisis management support to food companies and ancillary technology companies on a global basis on all matters relating to food safety and food defence.

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