COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses
WHO, 7 April 2020
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 application of these measures has resulted in the closure of many businesses, schools, and institutes of education, and restrictions on travel and social gatherings. For some people, working from home, teleworking, and on-line or internet discussions and meetings are now normal practices.
Food industry personnel, however, do not have the opportunity to work from home and are required to continue to work in their usual workplaces. Keeping all workers in the food production and supply chains healthy and safe is critical to surviving the current pandemic. Maintaining the movement of food along the food chain is an essential function to which all stakeholders along the food chain need to contribute. This is also required to maintain trust and consumer confidence in the safety and availability of food.
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-toperson 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.
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