Jump to a Specific Question
Persistence of COVID-19
- They say that freezing the virus doesn't make it go away. Will freezing kill COVID-19?
- Will pasteurization kill COVID-19?
- Is UV effective against COVID-19?
- I heard COVID-19 can be transmitted though air; are aerosols generated by an infected person a risk?
- Can COVID-19 be transmitted through the food we produce?
- I heard COVID-19 can travel for 9-12 ft when someone coughs/sneezes; am I safe at only 6 ft?
- How long can COVID-19 remain viable on different surfaces?
- Can COVID-19 virus survive on cardboard packaging?
- How will the newly developed vaccines for COVID-19 impact the food industry?
- Why do I still have to wear a face covering and keep my social distance even after being fully vaccinated?
- Is it safe to get the vaccine if there is a risk of severe allergic reaction? I know anaphylactic shock can kill you.
Variants of the Virus
- The SARS-CoV-2 variant from the UK (B.1.1.7) has been detected in the US; what can I do to protect myself?
- Should my employee’s wear masks or cloth face coverings?
- My essential service requires me to go to other businesses. How can I protect myself?
- I’m confused about CDC’s recommendations for when an employee can return to work; is it after 10 or 14 days?
- Are face shields equally effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 as cloth face coverings?
- I am not able to maintain a distance of 6 feet; does it make a difference if it's 5 or 3 feet?
- Should I check my employee’s temperature to screen for COVID-19?
- If an employee lives with a health care worker, can the employee still come to work?
- How do I encourage social distancing even though my employees are very close/familiar?
- Should my employees use gloves or wash their hands?
- Are there guidance documents for social distancing in food processing facilities?
What to do When an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19
- What should be done if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
- Should all employees vacate the facility if one of them tests positive for COVID-19?
- If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, do we have to put product on hold?
- Am I allowed to require my employee to notify me if they had a positive test?
- I need to hire temporary workers; how can I minimize the risk of hiring people with COVID-19?
- I'm concerned my employees won't show up to work because of COVID-19. What should I do?
- What are the recommended procedures for Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfection?
- The CDC recently determined that the risk of contracting COVID-19 by touching virus-contaminated surfaces is low. Will the EPA continue to maintain its List N of disinfectants to combat the virus that causes the disease?
- Our processing plant has a COVID-19 Control Program in place; how do we know this program works?
- Should I modify how HVAC is operated/maintained in my facility?
- Is washing dishes/utensils used by a COVID-19 positive person putting my employees at risk?
- Should I use ozone in my Food Processing Facility to control the spread of COVID-19?
- Should Food Processing Facilities put Disinfection Tunnels at the facility entrance?
- Do I have to update my Food Safety Plan to specifically address COVID-19?
- Do large facilities (>500,000 sq ft) with a confirmed case require cleaning entire facility?
- How do I prepare for my third-party cleaning/sanitation company being shut down?
- Do I have to clean frequently touched surfaces every time before I sanitize them?
- Can cleaning and sanitizing supplies still be used after the expiration date?
- How much can I delay my scheduled Preventive Maintenance and still be safe?
- Can ingredients that are close or past the expiration date be used?
- May an employer administer COVID-19 tests before permitting employees to enter?
- Is environmental sampling essential during this time of crisis?
- Should we test surfaces in our processing facility for COVID-19?
- Our routine lab cannot process all of my samples. How do I decide what to test?
- Do I need to test my water for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19?
Audits & Inspections
- My facility is GFSI certified. How will audits be handled for the next 2 months?
- Is NYSDAM still conducting inspections?
- Will I still be inspected by the FDA during this time period?
- Will my produce operation still be inspected for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule?
Delivery & Shipping
- With pick-ups/deliveries scheduled daily at my facility, how do I protect my employees?
- Can I still get product to my customers through FedEx?
- Is COVID-19 transmitted in fresh produce?
- Will my produce operation still be inspected for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule?
- How do we sanitize enclosed cab tractors?
- What are best practices regarding social distancing/sanitation when transporting farm workers?
- How should I reinforce my worker training curriculum?
- Should all employees that work with produce be wearing gloves?
- Should workers with beards shave before working with produce?
- Do I need to test my water for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19?
- Should I change all my food packaging from plastic to cardboard?
- Should I increase how often my facility is cleaned and sanitized?
- Can the PSA Sanitizer Tool be used to find a product effective against COVID-19?
- How can I reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 at my farm stand?
- How would I amend my visitor policy to protect my produce, workers, and customers?
- What should be done if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
Meat & Seafood-related
- I’m screening my employees for COVID-19; is this information considered a medical record?
- I want to track COVID-19 cases in the areas where my plants are located; how do I do this?
- How do I address my employees childcare situations?
- How can I access the federal Paycheck Protection Program?
- Does my business qualify under the NYS Executive Order to de-densify workplaces?
- Can I expect to see financial relief?
Consumer FAQs Also Related to Industry
- I heard the CDC is now recommending people wear cloth face coverings, why?
- I can’t find any cloth face coverings to buy in stores in my area, how do I make them?
- How effective are ‘home-made’ cloth face coverings?
- How often should I clean my cloth face covering?
- What other precautions should I be aware of when wearing my cloth face covering?
- Why is social distancing/self-quarantine important to keep the food supply chain running?
COVID-19 FAQs Video Series
- Some people are still not wearing cloth face coverings when shopping, is it safe for me to pass by them in the shopping aisle?
- How long will the COVID-19 virus survive on food, food packaging and other surfaces?
- How do we know for sure COVID-19 is not transmitted though food?
- I hear a lot of big food companies are having problems with COVID-19, am I safer buying local food?
- I have a lot of cans in my pantry that are expired and frozen meat in my freezer that has been in there for a long time; is this food still safe to eat?
- I'm confused about how to handle my groceries when I come home, should I use chemicals to disinfect produce?
- Am I at risk of getting infected with COVID-19 if the food service worker or delivery person coughs or sneezes on my food and packaging?
Persistence of COVID-19
Q: They say that freezing the virus doesn't make it go away, as a matter of fact, I've heard that that is how they store virus'. So if you buy something that others have touched (possibly with the virus) and then put it in your freezer, won't the virus survive and re-contaminate people when it comes out of the freezer?
It is unlikely that freezing by itself would be effective in inactivating COVID-19, however as detailed by the FDA, there is currently no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. It is extremely unlikely that any food or food packaging would be contaminated with viable virus that causes COVID-19. The time needed to freeze and thaw food and food packaging makes contamination with a viable virus even less likely. It is very important to wash your hands after returning home, before preparing food, and before consuming food.
There are occasional reports in the media about frozen food and food packaging (e.g. ice-cream, fish, and shrimp) testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. These reports lack detailed information about how food and packaging was tested; for example, did they test for traces of genetic material from the virus or presence of viable virus. This makes a large difference since genetic material can remain on the surfaces even after the virus is inactivated. In an unlikely scenario that actual viable virus is present on frozen food there is still a minimal risk of this virus causing infection. There is several reasons for this: (i) if present, the virus is present in low numbers (not sufficient to cause infection), (ii) sufficient numbers of the virus have to reach the receptors in your nose in order to cause infection; this is highly unlikely to happen during eating food, (iii) the virus will not survive transition through the stomach because of high acidity in the stomach. We are reaching 200 million COVID-19 cases globally and there is still no evidence to show food or food packaging can be involved in transmission of COVID-19. The main path of transmission are still close person-to-person contact with an infected person and respiratory droplets from an infected person. Mitigation strategies like vaccination, social distance of 6 feet, wearing proper face coverings, not touching your face, washing your hands and avoiding large gatherings are still the main strategies that will keep you safe from infection.
Scientific reports are indicating that standard pasteurization at 63⁰C for 30 min is sufficient to inactivate SARS-CoV-2 and similar viruses (e.g. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV).
Scientific reports are indicating some dosages and wavelengths of UV can be effective against SARS-CoV-2 and similar coronaviruses, however the same studies are reporting that other wavelengths of UV and reduced dosages are completely ineffective. In order for UV to be effective it needs sufficient exposure time and is only effective if the virus is directly exposed to the radiation. This need for direct exposure and poor penetration of UV radiation can result in complete ineffectiveness if contaminants like dust and bodily fluids are present on the surface.
Use of UV in any application cannot be used as a standalone hurdle and cannot be used to replace any of the basic measures required to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including hand-washing, cleaning, chemical sanitizing, pasteurization, exclusion of ill workers from the work environment and social distancing.
UV light can represent a potential health and safety risk depending on the wavelength, dose and duration. The risk may increase if the unit is not installed properly or used incorrectly.
As detailed by CDC, conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate COVID-19. UV treatment of municipal drinking water is not necessary to assure absence of COVID-19.
- Buonanno et al., 2020
- Darnell et al., 2004
- Pratelli, 2008
- van Doremalen et al., 2014
- CDC, Water Transmission and COVID-19
- FDA, UV Lights and Lamps: Ultraviolet-C Radiation, Disinfection, and Coronavirus
- EPA, Why aren’t ozone generators, UV lights, or air purifiers on List N? Can I use these or other pesticidal devices to kill the virus that causes COVID-19?
Q: I heard some reports that COVID-19 can be transmitted though air; are aerosols generated by an infected person considered a risk?
The virus that causes COVID-19 is still relatively new and an unknown virus to us when it comes to understating all of the paths of transmission and how efficient individual paths of transmission are. The part that is also still relatively unknown to us is the infectious dose of this virus; that is how many viral particles you must be exposed to in order to get infected.
What we do know is that the virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets generated by infected people. Large droplets are thought to be the primary risk, as they carry a large number of viral particles. These large droplets are heavy, they tend to drop to the ground relatively quickly and generally travel less than 6 feet; which is why social distancing of 6 feet is recommended for reducing transmission, and also why cloth face coverings are recommend, to capture these larger droplets at the source.
When a person talks, coughs, or sneezes, small droplets that carry a small number of viral particles are also generated; these small droplets can remain in the air for longer and travel further away from the source. Currently, we don’t know how effective these small droplets are in supporting transmission of the virus. Based on information from hospital environments we know that small droplets generated during invasive procedures on COVID-19 patients represent an important risk for the hospital workers. During these invasive medical procedures, a majority of the large droplets (carrying more of the virus) are converted into a number of small droplets that together still carry a large number of viral particles that represent the risk of transmission. Generation of a large number of small droplets is not something we can expect outside of the hospital environment, which is the reason why many experts believe aerosolization is a smaller risk in everyday situations most people will encounter.
Even with the limited knowledge on some of the aspects of transmission we still have relatively complete information on what are the most effective strategies in preventing transmission. We know from countries and cities (i.e. New York City), which were strongly effected by COVID-19, that basic prevention measures like practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings, using hand sanitizer, and regularly washing hands with soap and water are very effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. While other strategies might also be effective in reducing the spread, no scientific data is currently available that would suggest a higher effectiveness than these basic preventive measures or that any of these basic measures can be replaced or eliminated.
While ventilation, filtration, and UV systems may remove small droplets and potentially associated viral particles from the air, it is not clear that they would significantly reduce transmission in everyday settings. It is clear that none of these systems can replace the need for social distancing, face coverings, and regular hand-washing. If you are in close proximity to someone who is shedding the virus, an air handling system will not protect you. It is critical that individuals who are presenting symptoms associated with COVID-19 or are known to have COVID-19, stay home. For the rest of us, it is critical to practice social distancing to reduce our potential exposure to large droplets, and it is important for us to wear cloth face coverings in the event that we are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic so that we do not unknowingly spread virus-containing respiratory droplets to others.
Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19, according to the FDA, CDC, and European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). The virus that causes COVID-19 does not have a protective protein coat which makes it very unstable outside of the human host. Because of poor survivability of this virus on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging. Unlike the virus that causes COVID-19, all known foodborne viruses (i.e. norovirus, hepatitis A) have a protective protein coat that allows them to survive on food, food packaging, and in the environment for extended periods of time.
- FDA, Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- CDC, How It Spreads
- EFSA, Coronavirus: No Evidence that Food is a Source or Transmission Route
Q: I heard that COVID-19 can travel in the air for 9 to 12 feet when someone coughs or sneezes; how can the CDC say that I am protected from infection if I'm only keeping a distance of 6 feet?
Water droplets generated when a person coughs or sneezes can be separated into two sizes; large water droplets which are more than 5 microns in size and small water droplets which are less than 5 microns in size.
Large water droplets can travel less than 6 feet from the source before either evaporating or settling down towards the ground, which happens in less than 5 minutes. According to the World Health Organization, 3 feet is already a sufficient distance beyond which the number of large droplets is so small that the quantity of viable virus carried in these droplets is too small to cause an infection. CDC recommends keeping a distance of 6 feet as an extra precaution in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. The distance of 6 feet also gives a person enough time to step away from the person coughing or sneezing which adds another layer of protection.
Small water droplets generated when a person coughs or sneezes do not drop to the ground. The majority of these small water droplets evaporate instantaneously; as comparison, a 50 micron water droplet will evaporate in less than a second at normal air temperature and humidity. COVID-19 virus can only survive inside a host and once it is in the environment the virus is inactivated at a fast rate. Inactivation of the virus is even faster when exposed to dehydration encountered during evaporation of small water droplets. Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 infection can be transmitted through air beyond 6 feet in a normal everyday environment. The possibility of airborne transmission was only shown in a hospital environment when invasive procedures are performed directly on COVID-19 patients that generate a lot of aerosols; for example, intubation.
Remember to always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing using a tissue or upper part of the sleeve; dispose of the tissue and afterwards, be sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. You should wear a cloth face covering if coughing or sneezing, especially if you're in public places and in situations where social distancing is not possible. You should also self-assess the coughing, sneezing or any other symptoms you might have and if necessary, seek advice from your local health provider.
COVID-19 is highly unstable outside of its host and the number of infectious viral particles is reduced at a fast rate as soon as it exits the host. Results of a recent study indicate that the reduction rates of COVID-19 on different surfaces are similar to that of the coronavirus SARS. The observed reduction rates, measured in half-life (time needed to reduce the number of active viral particles by half), were dependent on the type of surface. The longest observed half-life of COVID-19 was on plastic surfaces (7h), followed by stainless steel (5.5h). COVID-19 was much less stable on cardboard (3h) and copper (1h). COVID-19 also had a half-life of 1h when tested in aerosolized water droplets. The contamination of different surfaces with infectious viral particles used in this study was much higher than the contamination we would expect in everyday situations; the use of a high contamination load was necessary to allow the researchers to quantify and measure the half-life of the active COVID-19 viral particles. The expected low levels of surface contamination in everyday situations combined with fast inactivation rate of infectious viral particles results in a relatively short window after contamination in which viable viral particles are present on any surface. In order to prevent infection from touching surfaces within that small window after contamination, it is still critical that people:
- Maintain social distance; you are not just preventing transmission of COVID-19 from person-to-person but also maintaining a distance that will prevent you from touching recently contaminated surfaces around other individuals.
- Maintain proper hand hygiene; ideally washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or if that is not available using the appropriate hand sanitizer. If you touch a contaminated surface this will inactive the virus.
- Not touch their faces. If you have touched a recently contaminated surface, keeping your hand from your mouth, nose, and eyes will help stop potential routes of infection.
It is also critical to maintain proper respiratory hygiene practices and wear a proper face covering when social distancing is not possible in order to reduce the risk of transmission from person-to-person as well as contamination of surfaces,.
Facilities should actively maintain routine, scheduled cleaning and sanitization of both production and non-production areas. Particular focus on high risk areas (restrooms, break rooms, locker rooms, first aid areas, etc) and surfaces (door knobs, hand-rails, telephones, faucets, electronics, etc) that employees regularly come in contact with, warrant cleaning and disinfection on a regular and frequent schedule.
We know that the virus is highly unstable outside of its host and is inactivated at a fast rate on any surface. A recent study showed that the number of viable virus particles on cardboard are reduced by half every 3 hours. Because of this fast rate of inactivation, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging, especially when these products are shipped over a period of days or weeks. Transmission of COVID-19 occurs mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets and less likely through contaminated surfaces. There are no known cases of transmission through cardboard, and there is no recommendation for specific interventions to address transmission through cardboard. Although cardboard packaging is not recognized as a risk, it is still important to reinforce GMPs like washing your hands often, proper respiratory hygiene, and not touching your face when handling these types of items.
There are a number of pharmaceutical companies that are developing vaccines for COVID-19; there are currently three vaccines that received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and are currently being used in the US. There are also at least 28 other vaccines in advanced stages of testing around the globe.
Currently, we know that the three approved vaccines are effective at preventing the development of disease, which will substantially reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths. The information that is currently still missing is how effective the three vaccines are at preventing the shedding of the virus; for example, the vaccine might limit the replication of the virus in the body and prevent development of the symptoms but still allow sufficient replication that the person starts shedding the virus and potentially infects others around them. This is the reason why, if not all employees are vaccinated, it is still recommended that people keep practicing all the essential mitigation strategies, including keeping a social distance of 6 feet, wearing face coverings, avoiding touching their face, avoiding crowded places, and regularly washing their hands.
It is essential at this moment that each member of the food industry takes the necessary steps to make sure all COVID-19 Control Strategies are in place, consistently followed, and compliance verified on all levels. The necessary steps also include (i) appropriate training of employees, (ii) regular verification of social distancing and correct wearing of face coverings, and finally (iii) ‘pressure testing’ the written procedures that describe what to do when an employee either tests positive for COVID-19, develops symptoms compatible with COVID-19, or is potentially exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
Q: Why do I still have to wear a face covering and keep my social distance even after being fully vaccinated?
The answer is because we still don’t know if vaccines can prevent transmission of the virus from vaccinated person to others; the only part we do know is that it can prevent development of COVID-19 symptoms.
We know vaccines are very effective at preventing COVID-19; the development of symptoms, need for hospitalization, and the likelihood of a person dying because of COVID-19. For example, the last vaccine that was approved in the US has about 72% effectiveness; this means that for every 100 cases of COVID-19 among people that did not get vaccinated we expect to see only 18 cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated people.
The part we currently don’t know is if vaccinated people that are exposed to the virus have only mild infection without symptoms, in which case they can spread the infection to others, or are they protected from infection all together, in which case they are also not spreading the infection to others. In other words we don’t know if vaccinated people after being exposed to the virus will become asymptomatic carriers of the virus and infect others. The risk of spreading the virus to other people is even greater if these vaccinated people adopt an attitude that they are safe and everyone else around them is safe from the infection.
Some of the new studies are showing promising results and indicating that vaccines are not only effective at preventing development of COVID-19 but also at preventing the transmission of the virus. However, these studies included only a limited number of people and a limited number of different vaccines, not enough to make general statements about the safety of all vaccines in all situations; for example, in different populations, ages, cultures, geographic locations. Because we cannot say with certainty that all vaccines prevent virus transmission in all situations, it is better to keep other control strategies even after we receive the vaccine, including wearing face coverings, keeping social distancing, frequently washing our hands, avoiding touching our face and avoiding public spaces and large gatherings.
As more people get vaccinated, the number of daily cases is further reduced, and we get more scientific data on vaccines, we will be able to gradually loosen the recommendations.
The important part to remember is that just because the recommendations are to keep practicing social distancing and wear face coverings even after being fully vaccinated, this does not mean that vaccines are not effective. As we said, the number of people that develop COVID-19 is expected to be reduced by at least 72% with vaccination.
What we want to achieve with vaccination is something called herd or community immunity, where not only vaccinated people are protected from COVID-19 but also people that cannot get vaccinated; for example people with chronic illnesses. Some estimations are that at least 80% of the population would have to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Currently, there has been approximately 33 million estimated infected people and 135 million fully vaccinated people in US, which is still less than 50% of the US population; there is still a lot more people that can get infected and continue the pandemic.
We can achieve herd immunity much faster with vaccine than without it and with it we get less deaths, less hospitalizations and we also give this virus less chance to spread, replicate and mutate into a variant that can cause an even bigger problem; for example, causes more severe illness or not be affected by our current vaccines. At the moment we do have vaccines that are effective, we also have other mitigation strategies that are effective and in place; we should use all possible strategies to regain control over this pandemic before we go back to complete normal.
Q: Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine if there is a risk of severe allergic reaction to it? I know anaphylactic shock can kill you.
Although newly developed vaccines for COVID-19 can cause an allergic reaction in certain individuals, the chance of this happening is extremely low and usually occurs in people with a history of developing allergic reactions to other vaccines. Current available data on Moderna COVID-19 shows that there was only 10 reported cases of anaphylactic shock among more than 4 million people that received the first dose. In nine of these cases, the onset occurred within 15 minutes of vaccination; the person receiving the vaccine stays under the medical care for at least 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine. No anaphylaxis-related deaths were reported. The benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any risks associated with it; if you have any additional concerns with getting vaccinated consult with your doctor. Vaccination is an important part of the strategy to stop the COVID-19 pandemic; it is highly recommended that people that are able to receive the vaccine decide to do so to protect themselves and others around them.
Variants of the Virus
Q: The SARS-CoV-2 variant from the UK (B.1.1.7) has been detected in the US; what can I do to protect myself and my family?
Virus mutation is a natural process that occurs when viruses are transmitted from one host cell to another, from one human host to another; the case is the same with SARS-CoV-2. Most mutations (new variants) occur without any change to the virus, some reduce the effectiveness of the virus to infect the host and there are a few that increase this effectiveness. There are currently at least three variants with this slightly higher effectiveness; one was first identified in South Africa (variant B.1.351), one in Brazil (variant P.1) and the third one in the UK (variant B.1.1.7). All three variants are specifically more effective at getting from one person to another (higher transmissibility). All prevention measures and medical countermeasures, including vaccines that were developed, are still effective against all three variants; the same is true for current methods we are using to test for SARS-CoV-2 virus.
All three variants have been identified in states across the US, some of them are becoming the dominant variants in countries inside and outside of the US and they have the potential to increase the number of cases and prolong the pandemic. This is a good time to make sure our behavior is in line with all the basic mitigation strategies: (i) keeping a physical distance of 6 feet at all times, properly wearing face coverings whenever outside of your home, frequently washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, and avoiding large crowds and indoor public spaces. These basic mitigation strategies will remain the best way of preventing the spread until a sufficient portion of the population gets vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
The term ‘mask’ or ‘face mask’ captures surgical masks, and N-95 respirators. N-95 respirators are considered critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance. A ‘cloth face covering’ or ‘facial covering’ is any fabric or cloth that covers the mouth and nose. It can be made using household items (including neck gaiters, scarves, bandanas, t-shirts, sweatshirts, towels, turtlenecks, or other fabric), can be sewn by hand, or factory-made.
According to NYS Government (Enforcement of Social Distancing Measures), any person or employee who is not vaccinated, over the age of two and able to medically tolerate a face covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or a face covering when in a public place or workplace and not maintaining social distance. This is in accordance with CDC recommendations to use simple cloth face coverings as a voluntary public health measure where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- Cloth face coverings should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and be secured with ties or ear loops.
- Cloth face coverings should include multiple layers of fabric but should allow for breathing without restriction.
- Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing the cloth face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.
- Cloth face coverings should be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.
- Keep cloth face coverings clean of food residues or any other soils.
- Launder the cloth face coverings in a washing machine and machine dry before each daily use or whenever they become wet, sticky or visibly soiled.
We also recommend:
- To test the cloth face covering before using it to:
- Make sure it covers both the mouth and nose while still allowing proper breathing; cloth face coverings are only effective if covering both the mouth and nose.
- Make sure it will stay on the face during work without the need to touch and re-adjust it; employees should wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after touching their face or cloth face covering.
- Make sure PPE can be used together with cloth face coverings, i.e. employees should make sure their glasses do not fog-up while being used with a cloth face covering.
- Employees that are required to wear beard-nets should wear them over their cloth face covering.
- If cloth face coverings are re-used before washing, to store them in a paper bag to allow them to dry until the next use; replace the paper bag after each use.
It is critical to remember that wearing cloth face coverings is only effective if correctly implemented in addition to practicing social distancing to best of your abilities, regularly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and not touching your face. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer but may offer some protection to others in the case that wearer is pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic spreader. If wearer is symptomatic, they need to self-isolate and inform their employer, primary care provider and local department of health. A cloth face covering does not allow a symptomatic individual to work or venture out.
Q: I offer an essential service that requires me to go to other businesses. How can I protect myself against COVID-19?
COVID-19 is spread mainly from person-to-person and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The best ways to avoid the spread is to get vaccinated, clean your hands often, avoid close contact with others (maintain 6 feet of distance), wear face coverings and clean frequently touched surfaces.
Clean your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public space. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Be sure to wash your hands and avoid touching your face, especially after touching frequently touched surfaces including tables, doorknobs, light switches countertops, handles, phones, keyboards, faucets, etc. You may consider bringing your own cleaner and disinfectant with you when traveling to different sites. This way you can disinfect frequently touched surfaces that you must come into contact with.
Q: I’m confused about CDC’s recommendations for when an employee can return to work; is it after 10 or 14 days?
To answer this question it is necessary to distinguish between two concepts: (i) how long does it take for a person to develop illness after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, (ii) once that person develops illness, how long will they be able to infect other people.
The majority of people will develop first symptoms 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the virus. Even if the person that was exposed to the virus does not develop any symptoms and remains asymptomatic it will take 2 to 14 days for the person to start shedding enough virus to (i) be infectious to other people, and (ii) to be positive when tested for the virus. A person that was recently infected with the virus will most likely not test positive for the virus; the virus needs to multiply to sufficient numbers in the body first. Because the majority of infected people will develop symptoms or test positive within 14 days, CDC recommendations are for a person that had close contact with COVID-19 positive person to ‘quarantine’ for 14 days after the last exposure. CDC updated the quarantine guidelines to include options to reduce the quarantine time to (i) 10 days without COVID-19 testing, or to (ii) 7 days with a negative COVID-19 test (sample for testing has to be taken on day 5 or later). The person has to keep monitoring the symptoms closely for 14 days even if the quarantine time was reduced. Talk to your local Department of Health to get information if any of the two options were adopted by your State regulation; for example, NY State only adopted the first option of reducing the quarantine to 10 days. Besides staying home during quarantine, a person should stay away from other people who are at higher-risk of developing COVID-19 and also closely monitor for any symptoms.
A person with COVID-19 will typically shed active viral particles, that can infect others, up to 10 days after the symptoms first started; CDC is referencing six different studies to support this information. CDC is recommending, based on this information, that a person with COVID-19 should ‘isolate’ them self for at least 10 days after the first symptoms occurred or after the first positive test. Make sure you are without fever for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications) and you don’t have any other symptoms before returning to work, regardless if it has been already 10 days since the symptoms first started. There are reports of some severe COVID-19 cases that were shedding active viral particles for 20 days, however these were rare occasions. A study on severe and critical COVID-19 cases, for example in immunocompromised patients, showed that approximately 15 days after the symptoms started the probability of detecting active viral particles in these cases was less than 5%.
A person that had close contact with an infected person might have to stay home and restrict from any interaction with other people for up to 24 days; it can take up to 14 days to develop illness and start shedding the virus, and up to 10 days to stop shedding the virus after the illness developed. If you think or know you had close contact with an infected person contact your local Department of Health for specific instructions on quarantine, isolation, and other procedures specific for your local area.
Q: A food service worker in my local fast-food restaurant is using a face shield instead of a face covering; are face shields equally effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19?
Face coverings were implemented in the US to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic people that don’t know they are infectious. The face covering works by blocking respiratory droplets when a person talks, sneezes, or coughs and protects other people from the person wearing the face covering.
When it comes to face coverings (i.e. N-95 respirators, medical masks, cloth face coverings including neck gaiters), we have good scientific data (i.e. on materials, designs, fitting to the face) that shows the effectiveness of different face coverings on blocking the respiratory droplets at the source. For example, cloth face coverings including neck gaiters are comparable to medical masks when it comes to blocking respiratory droplets at the source.
A CDC study on N-95 respirators, medical masks, face shields, cloth face coverings and neck gaiters, showed that face shields are only able to block 2% of the droplets at the source while cloth face coverings and double layered neck gaiters were able to block more than half of the generated droplets.
Face shields were also shown to not be sufficiently effective at protecting the person from respiratory droplets generated by other people if used by itself. In a hospital environment, face shields are considered an eye or face protective equipment and are recommended to be used in combination with actual respiratory protective equipment.
Our recommendation would be to use cloth face coverings or neck gaiters in any public setting, including food service and food processing. For maximum protection we would recommend using a face covering or neck gaiter in combination with a face shield.
Q: I am not able to maintain a social distance of 6 feet; does it make a difference if I keep a distance of 5 or 3 feet?
Social distancing is preventing several risk factors:
- Prevents physical contact with another person; considered to be one of the main risk factors.
- Prevents large respiratory droplets from reaching your face, mouth, nose and eyes when another person sneezes or coughs because these large respiratory droplets fall to the ground or land on surfaces within 6 feet; also considered to be a large risk factor.
- Prevents contact with surfaces that were recently contaminated with respiratory droplets by cough, sneeze or touch; because the virus is unstable outside of the human host only recently contaminated surfaces (like frequently touched surfaces) are considered a risk
If you keep a distance of 6 feet the risk of infection is still not zero, however it is low enough to be considered highly unlikely to happen. In the same sense, if you keep a distance of less than 6 feet this does not automatically mean that you will get infected; however, the risk of infection is high enough for CDC to consider it too high. The shorter this social distance is the higher the risk is; the closer you are the more large respiratory droplets can reach your face, nose, mouth and eyes, you are also in reach of more fresh respiratory droplets on surfaces, and more likely to come into physical contact with the other person. The same relation exists with time; the longer time you spend within 6 feet the higher the risk is.
If you are not able to maintain social distancing you should still do your best to reduce the risk as much as possible by maximizing the distance that you can keep and by minimizing the time when proper social distance of 6 feet is not maintained.
Face coverings can help reduce the risk by restricting the spread of some of the large respiratory droplets that could otherwise reach your face or land on surfaces. Where face coverings are less effective in reducing the risk is preventing the respiratory droplets that do reach your face from contaminating your face and eyes. Face coverings are also not effective at all in reducing the risk when it comes to touching contaminated surfaces, or touching another person; some might even consider face coverings an increased risk because a person wearing a face covering might be more likely to touch their face by frequent re-adjusting of the face covering.
Face coverings are not a replacement for social distancing and should be used together with proper hand-washing and avoiding touching your face.
If your employee has visible symptoms of COVID-19, you do not need to take their temperature. Immediately segregate them from other employees, send them home, and have them reach out to their primary care provider for evaluation.
It is critical that the employer communicates well with employees. Employees should know the symptoms to watch out for, who they should notify if they show symptoms, what they should do if they come into contact with someone who has or may have COVID-19, and that they will still be paid if they must leave work do to COVID-19.
If your employee has come in contact with someone who is being tested for COVID-19 or with someone who has already tested positive for COVID-19, consider sending them home for 14 days or until the results of the test comes back negative. If this employee is essential to your operation and you cannot send them home, you must implement a pre-screening of the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, you would do the temperature and symptoms check before the individual enters the facility. The employee must also:
- Wear a face mask or appropriate cloth face covering at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
- Self-monitor for symptoms under the supervision of your occupational health program.
- Maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
- Routinely clean and disinfect their workspaces, i.e. shared electronic equipment.
Taking employees’ temperatures as a condition of entering the facility is currently permissible due to the risk presented by COVID-19 to the food production. Employer's are encouraged to review the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity laws as well as consolidated information that were recently updated in response to COVID-19. According to these laws, employee temperature screening must be done on a nondiscriminatory basis. The information collected during the screening should be kept confidential and be available to only key members of the company management that are responsible for organizing the production. Employee with a normal body temperature (below 100.4⁰F) still needs to follow all rules that are in place to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 inside and outside of the workplace; a person can still be a infectious even without exhibiting fever or any other symptoms.
Q: Food industry employee lives with a household member who is a health care worker and is treating COVID-19 positive patients; Can the food industry employee still come to work?
The primary concern here is transferring the virus to other employees at the facility, NOT contaminating the food. It is important to proceed in a manner that maintains the privacy of the employee, the suggested course of action is:
- Confirm the employee and their household have already implemented procedures to minimize risk of transmission at home recommended by CDC, NY DOH, or the health care facility the household member works for.
- You should consider to either monitor or ask the employ to self-monitor for symptoms (cough, fever >100.4 F, shortness of breath). If they begin to show symptoms, they should stay home and seek guidance from their health care provider.
- Ensure the employee is aware to confidentially contact management if their household member begins to present symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive for COVID-19. If the household member tests positive for COVID-19, it is recommended to have the employee stay home and contact their public health provider.
- If you have employees whose household member works in healthcare, you may consider having them work from home.
Q: How do I encourage social distancing even though my employees work together every day and are very familiar with each other?
The exposure to COVID-19 can be greatly minimized by social distancing (maintaining 6 feet or greater distance). The key here is thinking that even though you work with the same people every day, you don’t know who they’ve been unintentionally exposed to when they are not at work. Social distancing can present a problem among employees because familiarity of workers tends to result in them dropping their guard. A conscious effort needs to be instituted and supervisors should be ensuring these practices are always happening. A training session of all employees should be initiated to encourage social distancing and provide the benefits of it. While the term is ‘social distancing’ it should be emphasized that social interaction between workers is allowed as long as it is done from a recommended safe distance of 6 feet. More information on social distancing is also addressed in this question: Are there guidance documents for how to do social distancing in food processing facilities?
Employees in food processing facilities should continue to follow good manufacturing practices such as frequent hand washing and good personal hygiene. If disposable gloves are worn as part of the routine procedures in an individual facility, employees must wash their hands before using the gloves. Gloves must be changed anytime they become contaminated, this includes anytime the gloves touch your face, hair and any filth. Hands should be washed before and after preparing food and gloves should be changed. It is important to recognize that gloves do not prevent cross-contamination and therefore by themselves do not prevent the spread of illness from one employee to another.
Food manufacturers are encouraged to develop a site-specific social distancing plan. In order to manage risks to employees it is critical for food manufacturing facilities to closely review current policies and procedures relative current knowledge of the risks. Companies should review and amend current policies based on our knowledge of the virus and CDC and FDA guidelines. Ultimately, each facility will need to implement their own policies tailored to their specific facilities and risks.
Examples of guidance include our Food Facility COVID-19 Strategy Checklist, and Food Northwest's Social Distancing in Food Manufacturing Facilities. Technical, Organizational, and Personnel measures all need to be considered in a plan. Examples of topics to include in a social distancing plan are: change management; a list of frequently touched surfaces; mitigating risks through shift adjustments; meal/snacking considerations; streamlining monitoring activities; and office and clerical work.
- Food Northwest's Social Distancing in Food Manufacturing Facilities
- Download a checklist of frequently touched surfaces.
- Download an SOP for actions when a worker is tested for and/or tests positive for COVID-19.
- Download an SOP (Spanish Version) for actions when a worker is tested for and/or tests positive for COVID-19.
What to do When an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19
If an employee or individual currently working, or recently present, within your facility is confirmed by a laboratory to be positive for COVID-19 or developed typical symptoms, including fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath, send them immediately home and notify your local health department. Ensure that all surfaces and areas that the positive individual came into contact with are immediately cleaned and disinfected. Your local health department will be involved in monitoring the employee or individual while symptomatic and under isolation until they recover. The local health department will also be involved in clearing fully recovered employees from isolation before they can return to work. An employee is considered fully recovered and may return to work under the following conditions as defined by CDC Interim Guidance:
- No fever for at least 24 hours without the use of medicine that reduces fevers
- No other symptoms, including cough and shortness of breath
- At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared
If you have an employee that tested positive for COVID-19, you should identify employees who came into close contact with the positive individual during the period of 48 hours before the onset of symptoms and until fully recovered (see above). Have them contact their health care provider, and the local health department will provide further guidance on monitoring and segregation. If possible, have employees who came into close contact with the positive individual stay at home and have them request to be tested for COVID-19.
Close contact is defined by CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community as including:
- Any Household member
- Intimate partner
- Individual providing care in a household without using recommended infection control precautions
- Individual who was directly coughed on
- Individual who spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet or less of the positive individual that did not wear a face mask to block respiratory secretions from contaminating others and the environment.
Contact with a positive individual is considered close contact regardless if face coverings were worn. If employees who came into close contact with the positive individual cannot be sent home, adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:
- Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
- Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
- Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue face masks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
- Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
FDA and CDC allow the use of cloth face coverings instead of N-95 respirators which are still considered critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.
- NYS Department of Health, Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- FDA, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions, Food Products
- FBIA, Food Industry Recommended Protocols When Employee/Customer Tests Positive for COVID-19
- Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19
- Symptom-Based Strategy to Discontinue Isolation for Persons with COVID-19
Q: Should I have all of my employees vacate the processing facility if one of my employees tests positive for COVID-19?
Current guidelines from the FDA and NYS Department of Health do not include having employees vacate the facility after a COVID-19 positive case in a Food Manufacturing Facility. The only recommendations in this situation are to immediately send employees who test positive for COVID-19 home and perform cleaning and disinfection of all surfaces throughout the area and contact your local health department.
CDC guidelines on cleaning and disinfection of Community Facilities with Suspected or Confirmed case of COVID-19 are recommending closing off areas visited by the ill persons and to wait 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection. CDC states that these guidelines are NOT to be followed when specific guidance already exists. Food Manufacturing Facilities have specific guidance set by the FDA and State Health Departments when a COVID-19 positive employee is identified, and these are the guidelines that should be followed. It is particularly important to follow these guidelines and NOT the CDC guidelines when it comes to opening the outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area; there are other food safety risks associated with outside environment.
The only example where Food Manufacturing Facilities might consider having their employees vacate an area of the processing facility is when a COVID-19 positive employee or an employee with all typical COVID-19 symptoms, including cough, fever and shortness of breath, was working in a room or a small area for prolonged time.
It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious. Facilities will need to consider factors such as the size of the room and ventilation system design when deciding how long to close off the room or area used by the ill person before beginning the cleaning and disinfection. Taking measures to improve ventilation in an area or room, without opening the outside windows or doors, will help shorten the time it takes respiratory droplets to be removed from the air.
If your facility has a COVID-19 positive case, and you would like to speak with a member of our IFS team, use the contact list below:
- Dairy: Rob Ralyea (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Kimberly Bukowski (email@example.com)
- Fresh Produce: Dr. Elizabeth Bihn (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Gretchen Wall (email@example.com)
- Processed Fruits and Vegetables: Dr. Martin Wiedmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Randy Worobo (email@example.com)
- Fermented Beverages: Dr. Anna Katharine Mansfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chris Gerling (email@example.com)
- All Other Foods: Dr. Olga Padilla-Zakour (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Bruno Xavier (email@example.com)
- For Resources in Spanish: Karen Ospina (firstname.lastname@example.org)
No, because there is no evidence that suggests COVID-19 is transmitted through food consumption, according to the FDA, CDC, and European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).
The primary goal is to prevent person-to-person transmission. Therefore, if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality. Sick employees should follow the CDC’s ‘What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)’. Employers should consult with the local health department for additional guidance.
- CDC, What to do if You are Sick with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- FDA, Frequently Asked Questions
- FDA Briefing for Foods Stakeholders on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Normally, employers are prohibited from asking about an employee’s health status based on a series of anti-discrimination laws. However, in a time of pandemic illnesses, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has established a regulatory guidance that allows employers to adopt different policies that would normally not be allowed. This page from EEOC provides a series of short answers and a recorded webinar that provides employers with specific guidance. Employers may adopt a policy requiring employees to notify them about a positive COVID-19 test, and employers may also require employees to have their temperature taken upon entering the workplace. The CDC has also issued guidance about public health measures to protect your essential workforce which you can find here.
Q: I need to hire temporary workers to help out during this crisis; how can I minimize the risk of hiring people with COVID-19?
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently updated the rules for hiring during COVID-19 pandemic and also provided consolidated information for Equal Employment Opportunity laws. Employers should carefully read both of the documents in order to prepare for the hiring process. One of the updates to the rules is that while laws like The Americans with Disabilities Act and The Rehabilitation Act still apply during the COVID-19 pandemic, they do not prevent the employers from following the CDC, State and Local public health guidelines for COVID-19. Some of the actions that employers, temporary staffing agencies and contractors can take as part of this rules are:
- Employers may screen applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 when hiring.
- Employers may take an applicant's temperature as part of a post-offer, pre-employment medical exam.
- Employers may delay the start date of an applicant who has COVID-19 or compatible symptoms.
- Employers may withdraw a job offer when it needs the applicant to start immediately, but the individual has COVID-19 or compatible symptoms.
- A temporary staffing agency or a contractor that places an employee in an employer's workplace can notify the employer if it learns the employee has COVID-19.
Q: I am concerned that my employees will not show up to work because they are worried that they will acquire COVID-19 at work. What should I do?
Go through the following steps:
- Be open-minded and listen to their fears and concerns. Consider utilizing outside subject matter experts to answer employee questions.
- Explain to the employee that the risk is low if they follow the facilities GMP policy, including frequent hand-washing, keeping surfaces clean and social distancing where appropriate.
- Explain the measures your business is currently taking to protect employees from acquiring COVID-19 in the workplace and clarify early on that identification of a COVID-19 positive employee will not necessitate a full plant shutdown.
- Consider offering financial incentives.
- Consider implementing a sick pay policy (if not already in place).
Points to make when explaining how COVID-19 is transmitted: COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that spreads similarly as any other respiratory virus. Cough is the most characteristic symptom of respiratory infection and through this cough, droplets are generated that carry the active virus to the next person that is close by. These droplets can travel less than 6 feet from the source before settling towards the ground in less than 5 min. World Health Organization is reporting that the number of these droplets that make it beyond 3 feet before falling to the ground is already too low to cause infection. There is no evidence that COVID-19 infection can be transmitted through air beyond those 6 feet. This means that a person is sufficiently protected if staying 6 feet away from any potentially infected person which is the current recommendation from CDC on social distancing. If 6 feet is not fully achievable, introducing temporary barriers around employees can be used to protect the person from generated water droplets and infection. Barriers around employees as well as proper use of cloth face coverings will also limit the spread of the water droplets and protect other employees from infection.
Once the water droplets generated by the person with COVID-19 land on the surfaces around this person or when a person transfers the virus contamination from their mouth, nose and eyes onto different surfaces there is a small window of time when these water droplets and contaminators still contain active virus particles that can infect other people. Therefore, additional measures (described below) are taken to protect employee from infection.
Explain Measures to Take to Prevent the Spread:
Surfaces that are frequently touched by different people are frequently cleaned and sanitized. If surfaces are not typically soiled (i.e. doorknobs); they can be sanitized between regular scheduled cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
All employees must practice frequent hand-washing. You have to emphasize that before and after a person touches their face (i.e. mouth, nose, eyes or when touching their cloth face covering) they have to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water; the same rule should be followed when touching another person. Some additional examples when hands have to be washed are any time an employee leaves their work station, before coming back to the work station, after using the restroom, and after touching frequently touched surfaces (avoid touching these surfaces altogether; use elbow or other parts of clothes and body if possible).
Let the employee know that contamination with active viruses on their hands or clothes is not going to get them infected, it is when this contamination and virus are transferred to their face (i.e. mouth, nose, eyes). This is why hand washing is so important: if they accidently touch their face. Emphasize that employees need to get into a habit of not touching their face, including mouth, nose, eyes and cloth face covering. This protects the individual from infection and it also protects other people from infection. If you happen to be the infected person, by not touching your face you are not transferring virus from your face to other surfaces that people touch. If you are touching your face it has to be performed consciously and it has to be deliberate; (i) you remove the cloth face covering if you are using one, (ii) you wash your hands, (iii) you touch your face and readjust your cloth face covering (preferably replace the cloth face covering), and (iv) you wash you hands again before continuing your work.
Reassure your employee that food you produce, and the food other processors produce does not represent a risk of transmission; the same goes for the air in the processing plant and the clothes they are wearing.
Make sure you also have the following key safety control points in place and that employees are aware of it: increased sanitation, worker wellness checks, keeping ill employees at home, separating workers who become ill during the day, staggering shift changes, and social distancing.
Workers are under higher stress during these times and although still low, if all precautions are followed, the potential for them getting infected is still higher than those staying at home (e.g., because they have to travel to work). Businesses should seek ways to increase financial security for their workers. Financial incentives, although not always feasible, are a very simple solution. Processing and retail companies are already temporarily increasing the pay for the workers who must come in and many are also adding sick pay policies for workers who had previously not had the benefit.
Talk to your workers about individual steps and changes before you implement them; this includes explaining why certain steps will be taken and how these steps will help. You should also consult with your employee on how feasible individual steps are and how to best implement them. This will build a rapport with your employee and not only keep them safer but also make them feel safer because they have a word in all the changes. Creating a space where employees can talk freely will go a long way towards reducing the number of people walking off the job. Reassure employees that you are all in this together and that they will be covered if they do become infected. Most importantly, be open-minded and listen to their fears and concerns so you can address them on time before they become a problem that prevents them from coming to work.
Q: There are a lot of different recommendations on cleaning, sanitation, and disinfection out there when it comes to COVID-19; what are the recommended procedures for Food Processing Facilities?
Food Processing Facilities must follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) and the FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food, which include maintaining clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces. These rules are the base for manufacturing safe food regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food facilities are required to use US EPA-registered “sanitizer” products in their cleaning and sanitizing practices. FDA Food Code defines “sanitizer” as a substance, or mixture of substances, that reduces the bacterial contamination of inert objects or articles, or equipment and utensils, and other cleaned food-contact surfaces by at least 5 log units, which is equal to a 99.999% reduction. Sanitizers for food-contact surfaces or Sanitizing Rinses are formulated in a way to be used without rinsing; the chemical residues on the food-contact surface are below the level that would represent a hazard for the consumer if these residues were to be transferred to food.
By definition sanitizers are only effective against bacteria while disinfectants on the other hand can by definition be active against bacteria, fungi and/or viruses, but typically not against bacterial spores in a food processing setting. Activity against viruses is the reason why FDA and most likely your local health department, i.e. NYS Department of Health requires you to perform disinfecting of specific surfaces after cleaning. This is:
- Before a confirmed case of COVID-19 occurs: Routinely clean high-risk locations (i.e. dining areas, and frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs)
- When a confirmed case of COVID-19 occurs: Clean and disinfect ALL surfaces including food-contact surfaces that the positive individual came into contact with over the last 24 hours of showing symptoms or testing positive.
For any given product registered as a disinfectant, data must be generated and approved by the US EPA for specific organism claims; for example, some disinfectants may only be approved to be used against a subset of bacteria, fungi or viruses. Review the US EPA webpage, product specifications and product labels for details on activity of each disinfectant product. Use List N of EPA-registered disinfectants to find products considered to be effective against COVID-19 based on the emerging viral pathogen program or because they already have claims against similar human coronavirus(es). All products on this list meet EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19, including those marked as “No” under “Emerging Viral Pathogen Claim”. Look for products that can be used in “Institutions” on “Hard nonporous” surfaces. If you operate within NYS, visit this page from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to find the list of approved disinfectants in NYS.
Disinfectants often contain the same chemistry as sanitizers but at a higher concentration. While this higher concentration of active ingredient in disinfectants can be used in some applications on non-food-contact surface without rinsing, this will not be true for most applications on food-contact surfaces. After disinfection of food-contact surfaces these surfaces need to be properly rinsed with water. Because potable water used for rinsing is not sterile, you must sanitize the food-contact-surfaces before using them for processing food.
Although by definition only disinfectants can be effective against viruses there are also sanitizers that at no-rinse concentration, may be effective against viruses, including viruses that are more stable than COVID-19. The process of registering such products as ‘Sanitizers with virucidal activity’ is currently ongoing at EPA. Currently, in order to perform inactivation of COVID-19 on surfaces, all products need to be used at concentrations and the dwell time on their label to be appropriate for disinfection.
General recommendation would be to use a product that has both food-contact sanitizing claims and disinfectant claims (these will likely be at different active ingredient concentrations). However, it is very important to always consult with your chemical supply company on what products can be used in food processing facilities on food-contact and non-food-contact surfaces against COVID-19. It is also very important to consult with them on how to use these products since the language for disinfecting food-contact surfaces is inconsistent across labels for different products.
In the 2005 FDA Food Code, the use of the term “hand sanitizer” was replaced by the term “hand antiseptic” to eliminate confusion with the term “sanitizer,” a defined term in the FDA Food Code.
Overview of recommended procedures:
Did you have a COVID-19 positive case?
Is it a food production related surface?
Is it a Food-contact surface?
|NO||NO||YES2||Clean > Sanitize|
|NO||YES||YES4||Clean > Sanitize|
|YES||NO||NO1||Clean > Disinfect|
|YES||NO||YES2||Clean > Disinfect > Rinse > Sanitize|
|YES||YES||NO3||Clean > Disinfect|
|YES||YES||YES4||Clean > Disinfect > Rinse > Sanitize|
- 1For example, surfaces not related to food production would be found in restrooms, dining areas, locker rooms, and Frequently Touched Surfaces like doorknobs.
- 2For example, kitchen counters, inside of a refrigerator, utensils.
- 3 For example, floors and walls in the production room, exterior of equipment, food carts.
- 4 For example, conveyor belts, inside of a mixing kettle, slicers.
The CDC recently determined that the risk of contracting COVID-19 by touching virus-contaminated surfaces is low. Will the EPA continue to maintain its List N of disinfectants to combat the virus that causes the disease?
In short, yes! You should continue to select products from EPA’s List N to combat SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) though, as always, use the more restrictive state-specific list if your state has one; for example, New York has developed its own list of products you can legally use in the state. With either list, follow the product’s use instructions for the pathogen indicated on the list.
When the pandemic began in 2020, no registered disinfectant pesticides had been tested for efficacy against SARS-CoV-2. In response, EPA activated its Emerging Viral Pathogens Guidance for Antimicrobial Products, allowing the Agency to quickly create List N by expediting emerging viral pathogen claims for existing products and the registration of new products that would be effective against SARS-CoV-2.
The EPA will continue to register new products for use against COVID-19, and will continue to update List N. However, in light of the recent information from the CDC regarding risk of surface transmission and because there are now hundreds of products available on List N, EPA will no longer expedite emerging viral pathogen claims or new product registrations intended to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces. This will allow EPA to shift resources toward evaluating novel products such as those that kill airborne SARS-CoV-2. Find out more about the EPA’s response to Coronavirus here.
When using disinfectants in New York:
- Make sure the product you are using is legal in NYS! In NY, disinfectants for use against COVID-19 must be listed on the New York State Department of Environmental C (based off EPA List N) for use against SARS-CoV-2.
- Always read the label and follow the safety directions for SARS-CoV-2 or the specified similar pathogen and pay attention to dwell time so that you are using products effectively. Illegal disinfectants and inaccurate health claims surrounding SARS-CoV-2 are still cropping up across the country, with the EPA having to intervene in NV and CA to stop illegal sales and in PA to stop inaccurate claims.
- Reach out to the experts! For questions about pesticide safety: Cornell’s Pesticide Management Education. For questions about pesticide regulations/compliance: NYSDEC Bureau of Pesticide Management.
Q: Our processing plant has a COVID-19 Control Program in place; how do we know this program works and is sufficient to protect the workers from COVID-19?
Up to this point, the majority of food processing companies have managed to continue operations without having a single positive case among employees. As we enter the fall/winter season and the number of positive cases continue to increase across the country, it is very likely that some of these companies will at one point have to deal with a positive case among their employees. For example, the current daily average in New York is 4,500 cases (11/19/20), which means that a processor with 100 employees can expect to have two positive employees in the next three months. A functional COVID-19 Control Plan is what will make a difference between preventing or propagating the spread of COVID-19 from a positive employee.
What each company can do, before the first cases are identified among employees, is to ‘Pressure Test’ the COVID-19 Control Program they have in place and identify the weak points in the program that can increase the risk. The same way companies are performing mock recalls to make sure everything is in place for when the real recall happens, the companies can stage different positive case scenarios and follow the individual steps of the control plan being performed.
Some examples of staged scenarios that can be used as ‘Pressure Tests’ would be:
- A specific employee calls in and reports they are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
- A specific employee walks to the production manager and reports that they just found out that they tested positive for COVID-19.
- A specific employee talks to a co-worker on the line about his or her partner (or child) having COVID-19.
- A specific employee acts out coughing or loss of taste during lunch.
Some of the questions that the company should address in the steps that follow this staged event of the ‘Pressure Test’ are:
- How are positive tests, symptoms, and potential close contacts initially handled and how effectively is this information communicated to appropriate staff responsible for COVID-19 Control?
- What are the instructions given to the positive employee about what to do and who to contact next?
- How is the positive employee, as the main risk of transmission, removed from the food processing plant?
- How is the potential shortage of employees addressed to facilitate uninterrupted production?
- When and how is the information about potential close contacts in the processing plant and other key information collected from the positive employee?
- How is the information about potential close contacts used to inform the steps to follow after the positive employee is removed from the processing plant (e.g., screening, cleaning, quarantining, etc.)?
- How are other employees and company management informed of the positive employee?
- What was the plan for contacting government agencies about the positive employee? (IMPORTANT: Make sure the key person responsible for contacting any government agencies is aware of the ‘Pressure Test’ and staged scenario).
- How is the privacy of the positive employee protected during entire process?
- Are other aspects of the operation, like procedures that assure safety and quality of the food, maintained unaffected during the entire process?
The information collected during this type of ‘Pressure Test’ should be used to identify the weaknesses, define the roles individual employees have, introduce additional steps if needed and update the overall COVID-19 Control Plan. Performing a ‘Pressure Test’ will also address the COVID-19 fatigue, people are experiencing after nearly a year of this pandemic, and also represent a record of the company’s commitment to protecting its employees and consumers.
Q: Should I modify how HVAC is operated and maintained in my facility to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19?
The epidemiology of COVID-19 indicates that most infections are spread through close contact, not airborne transmission. According to the CDC, airborne transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 is highly unlikely and can only occur under special circumstances and does not require any special engineering controls. Proper social distancing of 6 feet is sufficient to prevent transfer of infection from person-to-person by physical contact as well as airborne droplets. A functional HVAC system already in place as part of your GMPs is additionally reducing the risk of transmission through airborne droplets. There is no need to modify any part of your HVAC system including any change to the frequency of replacing the filters and other preventative maintenance. Verify proper SOPs for maintaining the HVAC system are in place and followed. This is also a good time to make sure all of your basic prevention strategies are in place including establishing a system of verifying compliance with these strategies.
Although contaminated surfaces are not the main way COVID-19 spreads, employees still need to be careful when it comes to recently contaminated surfaces like used dishes and utensils. Employees that are washing or otherwise handling the used dishes and utensils should be very diligent about not touching their face and regularly washing their hands.
Employees should also follow the CDC and FDA guidelines and use gloves when handling any used dishes, cups/glasses, or silverware. If possible, disposable gloves should be used and discarded after use. If reusable gloves are used, those gloves should be dedicated for handling dishes and utensils and should not be used for other purposes. Hands should be washed before and after using gloves.
Wash the dishes and utensils in a 3-compartment sink or a dishwasher using appropriate detergent and hot water. The dishwasher should be able to reach a temperature of 165⁰F if chemical sanitizer is used for the final rinse, and 180⁰F if high temperature and two-phase dishwasher are used to sanitize the dishes and utensils after washing. Although used dishes and utensils might be considered frequently touched surfaces, they are still food-contact surfaces and should not be treated with chemical disinfectants. Consult with your chemical supplier on appropriate sanitizer to be used on dishes and utensils.
Because of the high water temperature used during dishwashing and also because of the high dilution factor occurring during this process we believe transmission through generated mists and droplets is a very unlikely scenario. Employees should still avoid generating unnecessary splashes, droplets and mists during dishwashing.
- CDC, How COVID-19 Spreads
- FDA, Best Practices for Reopening Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- CDC, Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home
- CDC, Cleaning and Disinfection for Households
- National Restaurant Association, COVID-19 Reopening Guidance, A Guide for the Restaurant Industry
No. Ozone is generated by a device and as such it is considered a pesticidal device. A pesticidal device is an instrument or other machine that is used to destroy, repel, trap or mitigate any pests, including bacteria and viruses. Unlike chemical pesticides, US EPA does not routinely review the safety or efficacy of pesticidal devices, and therefore cannot confirm whether, or under what circumstances, such products might be effective against the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, List N only includes chemical disinfectants registered by EPA and does not include devices. Some devices have limitations in how they are used and often can only be used as an adjunct to routine disinfection, cleaning and sanitation practices. Others are used with EPA-registered products and have legitimate claims and use directions associated with them.
In addition, Occupational Safety and Health Administration of US Department of Labor is strictly regulating the employee exposure to ozone due to health hazards associated with ozone (See 29 CFR 1910.1000 for details).
(Posted on 4/9/20)
No. Disinfecting tunnels are spraying disinfectants on persons skin, clothes, and shoes; an infected person going through the disinfection tunnel is still able to transmit the infection to another person on the other side. Disinfection tunnels are not addressing the main risk when it comes to transmission of COVID-19; the person-to-person transmission through respiratory droplets. This risk is still best addressed by practicing social distancing, frequent hand-washing, wearing cloth face covering, and not touching your face.
Products currently approved by US EPA to be effective against COVID-19 (see List N) are only approved to be used on hard, nonporous type of surfaces; these products are not approved to be used on clothes or skin and have a high potential to be harmful.
Risk Assessments performed by FDA, CDC, European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and other agencies around the world suggest that COVID-19 is not transmitted through food consumption. This information can be included in your Risk Assessment if you wish to update your Food Safety Plan. However, with the extremely low food safety risk and the low risk to the consumer (supported by USDA and FDA position documents that state that COVID-19 is not foodborne) there is no need to make any modifications to your current Food Safety Plan.
The primary risk with COVID-19 is transmission from person-to-person. Hence, make sure you have a strategy in place to reduce this type of risk to the employee, including (i) an SOP for cleaning and sanitizing frequently Touched Surfaces (with an associated list of frequently touched surfaces covered by this SOP), and (ii) an SOP for procedures to follow when employee is tested for and/or tests positive for COVID-19. Visit this page to find an example of a Food Facility COVID-19 Strategy Checklist and additional resources.
This is good time to remind your employees to keep practicing social distancing, frequently wash their hands, avoid touching their face, cover their mouth and nose with a handkerchief or a sleeve when sneezing or coughing, and to stay home if they have any symptoms.
- FDA, Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- CDC, How It Spreads
- EFSA, Coronavirus: No Evidence that Food is a Source or Transmission Route
Q: Our facility is over 500,000 square feet. Accordingly, do you have a perspective on whether a confirmed case would require complete cleaning of the facility or only those areas the employee may have had contact with?
Continue performing your regular cleaning and sanitizing procedures of your facility according to your regular schedule. This is a good time to review and verify you have proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures and frequencies in place. After you receive information about your employee being positive for COVID-19, perform additional cleaning and sanitizing of those areas the employee had contact with.
The key is to prevent transmission of COVID-19 among your employees. Evaluate who are other employees that the positive person had contact with. See our SOP on when an employee is tested for or tests positive for COVID-19. Use this case to make sure your employees are following the recommendations for social distancing, frequent hand washing and avoiding touching their face. More information on social distancing is also addressed in this question: Are there guidance documents for how to do social distancing in food processing facilities?
Q: I am afraid my third-party cleaning and sanitation company will be shut down due to COVID-19. How do I prepare for that?
As coronavirus cases increase, third-party cleaning companies may be faced with difficulties in cleaning a variety of businesses and may even refuse to undertake the work if there is a positive case. Thus, to remain operational, it is imperative that your business has a cleaning/sanitizing protocol (conducted in-house by in-house employees) ready before this situation occurs. The steps to prepare for this would be a review of your Master Sanitation Schedule. Commonly touched areas should be added to this schedule: door handles, light switches, counters, etc. A cleaning and sanitizing procedure should be developed based on traffic in these areas. Frequency and a cleaning procedure should be determined and an SOP should be developed. You may have to assign and train more than one person to this task. You know your business best and will be best able to accommodate for any irregularities that may be missed by third-party companies.
Q: I’ve implemented a new procedure to more frequently sanitize frequently touched surfaces (e.g., door knobs) in my facility to prevent person-to-person spread of COVID-19. Do I have to clean these surfaces every time before I use a sanitizer on them?
Frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and light switches, represent potential transfer points of contamination between individuals that are otherwise practicing currently recommended social distancing of minimum 6 feet. Hence, it is important to identify these potential transfer points in the production facility and develop and implement SOPs or protocols to assure that these points are cleaned and sanitized with enhanced frequency.
Our suggestion is to have a separate procedure/SOP for “Enhanced sanitation of frequently touched surfaces to prevent person-to-person spread of COVID-19”, which is distinct from routine SSOPs that are already in place. If surfaces are smooth and impervious with no apparent accumulation of soils, enhanced sanitation of these surfaces can occur without prior cleaning. However, it is essential that regular routine cleaning and sanitation of these frequently touched surfaces continues as specified in the SSOPs. Importantly, cleaning of these surfaces still needs to occur when the regular (non-enhanced) cleaning is performed.
For further information, we have developed a Food Facility COVID-19 Strategy Checklist page that includes a list of Frequently Touched Surfaces in a processing plant and general guidance for cleaning and sanitizing of these surfaces.
In most cases cleaning and sanitizing supplies can still be used after the expiration date however this depends on the type of chemical and the time since it expired. You should always consult with your supplier to make sure the chemicals are still preforming as intended and for the ways of testing activity.
It is strongly recommended to not delay your scheduled Preventive Maintenance. Make a plan of how to prioritize different parts of Preventive Maintenance based on your experience and risk and consult with an expert on your final plan.
Anytime there is a substitution or change in formulation, the food safety of your product should be evaluated, as inherent food safety characteristics may have changed. Changes in formulation should be reviewed by a process authority. Anytime you want to use an ingredient that is close or past the expiration date you also need a process authority review. Our team can provide process authority services in case you need to change processes and/or formulations due to COVID-19 related challenges. For more information visit the Cornell Food Venture Center and for dairy-related process authority services contact Rob Ralyea. For those outside of New York, the Association of Food and Drug Officials has assembled a list of food process authorities around the country by state and territory. It can be found here. If you have problems getting help, contact us and we will attempt to assist.
Q: May an employer administer a COVID-19 test (a test to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus) before permitting employees to enter the workplace?
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that any mandatory medical test of employees be "job related and consistent with business necessity." Applying this standard to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others. Therefore an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus.
Consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act standard, employers should ensure that the tests are accurate and reliable. For example, employers may review guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about what may or may not be considered safe and accurate testing, as well as guidance from CDC or other public health authorities, and check for updates. Employers may wish to consider the incidence of false-positives or false-negatives associated with a particular test. Finally, note that accurate testing only reveals if the virus is currently present; a negative test does not mean the employee will not acquire the virus later.
Based on guidance from medical and public health authorities, employers should still require – to the greatest extent possible – that employees observe infection control practices (such as social distancing, regular hand-washing, and other measures) in the workplace to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
Even with this COVID-19 crisis, environmental pathogens remain a potential risk in the processing environment and to food. Environmental pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella species continue to represent a threat to the consumer. It is more essential than ever to keep your environmental monitoring program functional. Consult with your laboratory to find out what is their testing capacity. If their testing capacity is reduced adjust your sampling plan to prioritize higher risk areas within your sampling plan.
It is not advised to test surfaces for COVID-19. General Cleaning and Sanitizing procedures that are part of every food processing operation are sufficient to remove and inactivate COVID-19. COVID-19 is not an environmental pathogen or considered a foodborne risk. COVID-19 is spreading mainly through person-to-person contact including through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. However, now is a good time to review and if needed update your cleaning and sanitation verification procedures, including ATP testing to verify cleaning. Visit the following pages to find information on verifying your Cleaning and Sanitation.
- Food Safety Magazine, Verification of Effective Sanitation Control Strategies
- Food Quality & Safety, Verifying Your Cleaning and Sanitation
- Food Safety Tech, Using ATP-based Methods for Cleaning and Sanitation Verification
Q: Our routine lab cannot process all of my samples. How do I decide what to test and what not to test?
In the event of limitations on the volume of laboratory testing available to a manufacturer (for example, due to supply shortages) it may be necessary to prioritize which routine samples should be tested. Taking a risk based approach is appropriate in this circumstance and may include prioritizing testing of high risk environmental locations (for example, high hygiene areas) within a food processing facility over low risk environmental locations.
Audits & Inspections
All of the GFSI-recognized food safety certification programs (SQF, BRC, FSSC 22000, etc.) have issued official positions on how they are handling new certifications and re-certifications in response to the current pandemic and these are posted on their websites. We recommend contacting your certification body to discuss your options as they are in direct communications with the certification program owners.
SQF has in place a means to defer certification due to extenuating circumstances. This system was used recently for the Australian bushfires and it is used for individual extension requests when facilities have floods and fires. All requests for certificate extension must come from the certification body. At this time, SQF is only reviewing requests that are within 30 days of the certification audit date. Unannounced audits can be changed to announced for 2020, but you will have to have a mandatory unannounced audit in 2021. Additionally, SQF sites scheduled to have an audit before April 30 can ask for an extension of up to 3 months. These requirements can also change based upon how the situation continues to unfold.
Another thing to keep in mind is the message you may be sending out to your customers and employees by postponing your audit, certification or re-certification; some may see this as a sign that typical food safety practices can be relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This option should be used as a last resort.
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets continues its operations and inspections and is in constant contact with NYS farms and agri-businesses. Consumers are encouraged to remain strong in their support of local farms and agri-businesses during this time. To access guidance documents that are specific to the food industry in NYS click here.
The FDA has temporarily postponed all domestic routine surveillance facility inspections. These are facility inspections traditionally conducted every few years based on a risk analysis. Importantly, all domestic for-cause inspection assignments will be evaluated and will proceed if mission-critical. The FDA will continue to respond to natural disasters, outbreaks and other significant public health risks such as Class I recalls and other emergencies involving FDA-regulated products. During this interim period the FDA is evaluating additional ways to conduct inspection work that would not jeopardize public safety and protecting both the firms and the FDA staff. This can include, among other things, evaluating records in lieu of conducting an onsite inspection on an interim basis when travel is not permissible, when appropriate.
The FDA is postponing most foreign inspections through April, effective immediately. Inspections outside the U.S. deemed mission-critical will still be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- FDA Focuses on Safety of Regulated Products While Scaling Back Domestic Inspections
- Foreign Inspections
Delivery & Shipping
Q: With trucking pick-ups and deliveries scheduled daily at my food processing and/or farm facility, how do I take steps to protect myself, my employees, and my workplace from potential infection COVID-19?
The primary concern here is transferring the virus from person-to-person; this includes protecting employee from potentially infected delivery person as well as protecting the delivery person from potentially infected employee. Delivery person and employees working on receiving the deliveries should follow the basic rules for reducing the risk of transfer of COVID-19.
- Keep distance of 6 feet from all people involved during all items. Establish a protocol of receiving and make sure your delivery company is aware of it. Delivery person should stay in their vehicles as much as possible.
- If delivery person is responsible for unloading the delivery vehicle make sure they are (i) using their own tools to do so, (ii) if you have to provide tools like trollies and dollies make sure these tools are designated only for that purpose, are clearly marked, stored away from other tools employee use, and available to the delivery person without the need for assistance from employee. The delivery person should not enter the facility but instead only unload the material out of the transport vehicle. After unloading the delivery person should continue on their way or if needed to stay, do so in the transport vehicle. Employee from the facility should bring the material into the facility using their own tools. If possible, the outer layer of the transport packaging, i.e. shrink foil and cardboard, should be removed before bringing the material into the facility. There is no need to sanitize any part of transport packaging, inside packaging or working gloves. Consider providing separate working gloves to each employee working on the receiving.
- If facility employees are responsible for unloading the delivery vehicle, the delivery person should first open the vehicle using their own tools, i.e. working gloves. After the delivery person returns to the vehicle the employee should start unloading the transport vehicle using their own tools. If possible, the outer layer of the transport packaging, i.e. shrink foil and cardboard, should be removed before bringing the material into the facility. There is no need to sanitize any part of transport or inside packaging.
- Establish a protocol to have all paperwork done electronically without the need for close interaction.
- Employee should wash their hands before receiving the material, after removing the outer layer of transport packaging, and after the material has been placed in its designated area. If soap and water are not available, employee should use a hand sanitizer with minimum 60% alcohol. Delivery person should have their own hand sanitizer which they should use before starting to unload the material and after they finished unloading. Delivery person should also use the sanitizer to sanitize the handles of any tools you are providing to delivery personnel. A hand sanitizer can be provided to delivery person to make sure the protocol is being followed; in this case make sure the hand sanitizer is clearly marked and designated to be only used by delivery company personnel.
All employee and delivery personnel should avoid touching their face during receiving of the material.
All employee and delivery personnel should use a handkerchief or a sleeve to limit the spread of liquid droplets in case of sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands immediately after or use a hand sanitizer with minimum 60% alcohol.
All employee and delivery personnel should self-assess for any symptoms before starting the work day and before starting the delivery and receiving.
FedEx is considered an essential business and may continue to operate under state of emergency and shelter in place orders recently issued in the U.S. Prior to shipping, check to see if your recipient's location is open, as many commercial businesses are now closed. In the event a delivery location is closed, FedEx will follow their current operating procedures to attempt to complete delivery at a later time. You can also consider selecting a HOL (Hold on Location) address, close by to your recipient’s location. Your recipient will get a notification to pick up packages from the HOL. Given the time/temperature sensitive nature of many food products, it is important to coordinate with your customers/suppliers to ensure deliveries are received at the appropriate time.
Q: Are water fountains that my employees use a risk for transmission of COVID-19; what would be considered the best practice when it comes to water fountains?
According to the CDC (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Team, Community Interventions Task Force, COVID-19 Response), there is currently no specific recommendation to shut down water fountains. Water fountains are considered high-traffic, high-touch surfaces, so they should be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis (e.g., daily), and possibly more frequently with high use. Consult your chemical supplier on cleaning and disinfection products and methods that are both effective and appropriate for the device, and that conform to the device manufacturers’ directions. Frequently touched surfaces on a water fountain that should be cleaned and disinfected may include handles, knobs, basins, and water spigots. No-touch fountains should also be cleaned and disinfected the same as for conventional water fountains. COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water, and there is no evidence to show transmission from water fountains or from drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should be sufficient to remove and inactivate this virus which is known to be highly unstable outside of the human host.
Additional recommendations for using common, high traffic water fountains may include:
- Do not use the water fountain for washing hands or any other items.
- Do not spit water back into a water fountain.
- Use a single-use cup to collect the water.
- Water fountains used by children may need to be disinfected more frequently. Children should be instructed on the proper way to use water fountains.
- Follow social distancing recommendations of at least 6 feet and do not congregate around water fountains.
- Wear a cloth face covering when in public and near fountains where other people may be present.
- Pay attention to how your cloth face covering is removed before and re-adjusted after drinking the water in order to prevent touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.
- Wash your hands (for at least 20 seconds with soap and water) after touching a water fountain.
- Post signage near water fountains to encourage wearing a cloth face covering, social distancing, hand hygiene, and how to properly use the water fountain.
Q: We bottle milk into glass bottles and take in returns to be washed and re-used. Should we be concerned about contracting COVID-19 by handling these returned bottles from our customers?
No. Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, most likely to be transmitted person-to-person. Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects for short periods of time. The critical concept to understand is that it is a respiratory disease so you’d have to provide a method for the virus to get into the lungs. This is the reason hand-washing is a key component to preventing illness as well as not touching your face/mouth/nose area with your hands. It however is important that you re-inforce hand-washing procedures for employees that handle returned bottles and crates; these employees should wash their hands regularly and particularly after they have completed their work. Also, refer to this question on how long the virus can live on surfaces.
- CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), How It Spreads
- US FDA, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions
- CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), How to Protect Yourself
No. Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, most likely to be transmitted person-to-person. This is unlike foodborne viruses we normally talk about in produce (e.g., Norovirus, Hepatitis A) which spread easily through the fecal-oral route.
It is important to remember that eating fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a normal diet is beneficial to overall health. Fresh produce helps provide nutrients that are key to maintaining proper body weight and preventing chronic illnesses like diabetes.
The FDA has temporarily postponed all domestic routine surveillance facility inspections. In some states, inspections are conducted at the state level. Please check with your state department of agriculture to see if they are continuing to conduct food safety, dairy, and plant inspections.
The focus of cleaning and sanitizing the cab of a tractor, or any vehicle in operation, should be on the frequently touched surfaces. Surfaces in this category include; steering wheels, seat belts, door handles, arm rests, radio buttons, cup holders, and other surfaces touched by drivers or passengers. It is not necessary to clean and sanitize every nook and cranny but focusing on the commonly touched areas can decrease the risk of transmission.
There are additional actions that can be taken to reduce risks related to farm vehicles:
- Limit the number of operators in farm vehicles.
- Train farm machinery operators to clean and sanitize frequently touched surfaces before and after driving farm vehicles.
- Remind operators to wash their hands after using farm machinery as well as before and after they eat.
Inform all farm employees that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, so maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet is the most effective way to reduce risks. Frequent hand-washing, avoiding touching your face, and cleaning and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces are additional actions that will reduce contamination risks.
Q: What are appropriate practices regarding COVID-19 in social distancing and sanitation, with respect to transporting farm workers between farm sites?
CDC defines social distancing as remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 ft or 2 meters) from others when possible. It may be hard to fully implement these practices on a bus, but employees should avoid sitting close to other passengers and when possible, sit a seat apart. Enter only from rear doors to maintain a safe distance from the driver or have the driver step off the bus and passengers enter/exit one at a time to avoid close contact. The FDA has acknowledged that complete social distancing may not be possible in all work scenarios and facilities, but it is important to remain vigilant in practicing good hygiene, like hand-washing, that have always been key to safe food handling and processing. Additional steps such as wearing cloth face coverings is also an option, but does not remove the need to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.
Sanitation practices should focus on surfaces frequently touched by employees and drivers. These surfaces likely include windows and mechanisms to lower and raise them, seat belts, the steering wheel, button or handle to open doors, and the seats themselves. Developing a protocol to clean and sanitize these surfaces will reduce the spread of contamination.
- NYC Health, COVID-19: General Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting for Non-Health Care Settings
- CDC, Public Health Recommendations after Travel-Associated COVID-19 Exposure
- FDA, Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
First, it is good that you already have a worker training program in place. This is a great opportunity to retrain workers on food safety practices that reduce microbial risks while handling fresh produce. Address policies such as when and why it is important to wash your hands, the importance of not coming to work when sick and, coming to work with clean clothes. It is important to add practices specific to reducing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, including social distancing (i.e., staying at least 6 feet away from others) and increasing cleaning and sanitization of commonly used equipment and areas (e.g., lunch rooms, bathrooms).
No. It is likely gloves will be hard to find due to the COVID-19 outbreak, so farms should reserve glove use for times when it is necessary. This includes during cleaning and sanitizing when gloves are used as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Many farms have implemented glove policies during harvest due to buyer demand, but this is not a critical practice if gloves are not available. It is important that employees wash their hands prior to beginning harvest and anytime they become dirty, but hand washing is sufficient. Providing hand sanitizer is recommended as an additional step. Some farms may decide to designate glove use for specific on-farm activities, such as employees who collect money at a farm stand. If gloves are used, it is important to make sure they are worn properly. Hands should be washed prior to putting gloves on, after use they should be removed properly so that the outside of the gloves are not contacted by the hands, and the worker should wash their hands before continuing with other activities at the stand, like handling produce.
Q: I heard the virus can be carried in beards or hair. Should workers with beards shave before working with produce?
In the food industry, it is not a new concept that a beard or hair can harbor contamination or be a contaminant in food. The proper use of hair and beard nets prevents contamination from hair in produce. This could be an opportunity to address avoiding handling fresh produce after touching your hair or face. Also, it is important to remind employees that they must properly wash their hands after sneezing or blowing their nose since the SARS-CoV-2 virus is spread through respiratory droplets. Workers may also wear a cloth face covering in the absence of beard hair.
- CDC, Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- CDC. Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission
- CDC, Personal Protective Equipment: Questions and Answers
No, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water. The use of conventional water treatment methods, such as those used to treat municipal water, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19. There is also no current evidence that suggests Coronavirus is present or transmitted through surface or ground water.
- CDC, Water and COVID-19 FAQs
- WHO, Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Waste Management for the COVID-19 virus
No. Food packaging has not been associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Persistence studies show that the virus can remain viable on different surfaces but there is no evidence of infection from viruses on surfaces. Workers should continue to practice good hygienic behaviors and pack into new, single use containers to lower the risk of contaminating both produce and packaging, but there is no need to change food packaging containers.
Yes. You should maintain your cleaning and sanitizing schedule and consider increasing your sanitation practices in high traffic areas and for surfaces that are commonly contacted by people in your operation. This includes door knobs and communal areas such as break rooms. It is important to ensure hand washing facilities are well-stocked so employees can practice proper hand-washing. It is also good to provide hand sanitizer for employees throughout the farm. Remember to implement policies that allow employees to maintain at least a 6 ft distance from others while they are working. This may mean modifying time schedules for your sanitation crew to allow them to work without coming within 6 feet of others on the sanitation crew.
- What to do if you have a COVID-19 case or other cases of illness on the job
- Cleaning vs Sanitizing
- Additionally, for those interested in finding products that meet EPA’s list criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus which causes the disease COVID-19, visit this page, or if you operate within NYS, visit this page from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
Q: Can the PSA Sanitizer Tool be used to find a product effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19?
No. The intent of the PSA Sanitizer Excel Tool is to help farmers and educators search for a sanitizer that might meet their needs (i.e., produce washing, food contact surface sanitation). The functions in the tool allow sorting to answer some basic questions but the user must decide for themselves whether the products are appropriate and effective based in part on the EPA label (linked in the tool) and the manufacturer’s technical specification sheets. The EPA N list was created specifically to help the public find products that can be used to disinfect or sanitize surfaces that are contaminated with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The EPA has stated that each of those products is appropriate for that purpose. Straightforward information on the development of the EPA N list, and how it can be used to cross-reference products, can be found in the N list FAQs document. When in doubt, in reference to COVID-19, please use the EPA N list.
Q: How can I reduce the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 at my farm stand?
First, consider implementing practices that encourage customers to implement social distancing while they are on the farm. This could mean putting signs up to instruct customers to stay at least 6 feet apart or placing tape on the ground so when customers are waiting to check out, they will stay at least 6 feet apart. You can also encourage the use of cloth face coverings to reduce the likelihood that asymptomatic carriers will spread the virus while they are working or shopping. Many customers may be concerned about other customers touching produce before they buy it. Even though there is no research to indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be transmitted through food, farms may consider limiting customers touching produce. In a farm stand scenario, farms could move to customers pointing to which produce they would like to purchase and a farm stand employee packing it for them. This would increase interpersonal interactions, making social distancing a challenge, so that needs to be considered.
First, follow your state and federal government guidance on changing work place policy recommendations for how many people can congregate at specific events and locations. Next, modify your current visitors’ policy to include social distancing practices. This means encouraging visitors to stay at least 6 feet away from others. Consider encouraging visitors to wear cloth face coverings, but it is important to make it clear that cloth face coverings do not reduce the need for social distancing. As always, instruct visitors to stay home if they are sick. Be clear that no one with signs and symptoms of any illness is allowed to enter your farm. Identify where toilets and hand-washing facilities are located, encourage visitors to use the facilities often, and share any other visitor policies that you have in place.
Meat & Seafood-related
As detailed by the CDC, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife in the United States, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time. There is also currently no evidence to suggest that imported animals or animal products pose a risk for spreading COVID-19 in the United States.
Q: I’m screening my employees for COVID-19; is this information considered a medical record? How long do I have to retain the documents if they are considered medical records?
Visit this page from Matrix Sciences to find a good overview of what is considered a medical record and what the requirements are for retention of medical records.
There are a number of web pages dedicated to tracking the development of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can visit our Tracking COVID-19 page where we offer links to COVID-19 trackers that we found useful during our work. Some COVID-19 trackers are focusing on a global scale where you can find information on the number of cases and deaths in individual countries; for example, this COVID-19 tracker from Johns Hopkins. Each of the US States is collecting data on number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and often times number of tests performed in each State. This data is offered and updated daily by at least one COVID-19 tracker in each US State. Most of these trackers are offering sufficient granularity to determine the changes in numbers in individual counties as well as major cities; for example, two separate COVID-19 trackers from the New York State, Department of Health are offering information for both New York State and New York City. You can visit our Tracking COVID-19 page to find COVID-19 trackers for all US States. Most of the trackers are offering different ways of displaying the information; for example, daily trends vs. total numbers displayed in different table, figure, and map formats. These tools can be very helpful for processors to know and predict the impact on their production by following the numbers in specific communities where their processing plant is located and where employees live; for example, by knowing that an employee with otherwise mild symptoms (i. e. absence of fever) is coming from a community with a recent increase in number of cases, a processor might decide on the side of caution and ask the employee to stay home. Processors should appoint a COVID-19 point person or a team within the organization to track COVID-19 development daily in relevant communities as part of the overall COVID-19 communication and coordination.
As of 3/20/2020 licensed child care businesses in New York State are considered essential services and allowed to operate. Guidance can be found here. The Office of Children and Family Services provides guidance to New York State licensed child care centers during the COVID-19 crisis here. While child care centers are being given guidance to help address additional child care needs for children of essential employees, particularly in the health care fields, at the same time, child care facilities are also being asked to find ways to increase social distancing measures and improve sanitation. The Office of Children and Family Services maintains a listing of licensed day care providers to search for child care options although not all of the providers may be open during this current time. The ABCD program, which serves as a primary resource for the children of farm employee and food system employees, is currently closed and will re-evaluate its status regularly so please call local Centers for availability.
Q: How can I access the federal Paycheck Protection Program for my agricultural or food related business?
The Department of Treasury and Small Business Administration (SBA) released an interim final rule on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Agricultural producers and food processors are eligible to participate in the program and should reach out to their bankers and/or agricultural lenders to apply immediately. While SBA still needs to confirm some administrative details, loans will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis and producers and processors can get started on the application now.
- For a top-line overview of the PPP program click here.
- Information for prospective borrowers can be found here.
- The application for borrowers can be found here.
The best point of contact for questions on the Paycheck Protection Program is the Lender Relations Specialist in your local SBA Field Office. Your local SBA Field Office can be found here.
Q: Does my food or beverage processing and manufacturing business, grocery store, produce auction, or farmer’s market qualify as an essential business under the State of New York’s Executive Order mandate to de-densify workplaces?
Yes. Businesses engaged in supporting food production in New York State, from farms, food manufacturing of all scales, to places of business where food sales are conducted like grocery stores, convenience stores, produce auctions, livestock markets and auctions, farm stands and farmer’s markets are considered to be essential to the food supply. These businesses are NOT subject to mandatory de-densification of employee work spaces nor are these businesses subject to restrictions on the amount of people who can gather in one space. Businesses supporting food and feed production such as food animal veterinary based clinics, food safety testing labs, and agricultural supply businesses/services and ingredient manufacturers for food businesses are similarly included within the definition of essential services. This answer has been approved by the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Additionally, the FDA and Department of Homeland Security considers food and agriculture essential. This exclusion does not mean that businesses should not make every effort to ensure appropriate sanitation and good social distancing in the place of work and place where consumers are coming to purchase food. Please refer to the resources on this page and within the FAQ for good sanitation practices and signage resources. Businesses can seek an opinion from Empire State Development Corporation as to whether their business is an essential business. Food manufacturers who are experiencing logistical challenges with transportation and the supply chain can reach out to FEMA's National Business Emergency Operations Center at NBEOC@Fema.dhs.gov.
As of 3/29/2020 the CDC issued a travel advisory for NY, NJ and CT. This new restriction on non-essential travel does NOT apply to businesses deemed essential, including food manufacture and production and the distribution of food.
- NYS Executive Order
- NYS Exceptions Made for Essential Services
- FDA Briefing for Foods Stakeholders on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- NYSDAM, Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), What You Need to Know
- National Business Emergency Operations Center
- Coronavirus and Travel in the United States
Q: Can I expect to see financial relief provided to small and large scale food processing businesses and farms?
State and national governments are enacting numerous COVID-19 economic relief programs, and information in this area is changing rapidly. The federal government recently added New York State to its listing of declared national disaster areas, making businesses eligible for low interest to no interest loans here. While most of the immediate focus on disaster assistance has been to immediately unemployed personnel and various extensions of tax due dates and certain loan or debt payment extensions, the general consensus among elected leaders seems to be that some form of business assistance programs should be developed particularly for hard-hit sectors of the economy. Cornell CALS recommends following the latest news from your elected officials or the trade organizations pertinent to your sector for the most up to date information on business relief packages. In general, financial relief packages for businesses and residents tends to be provided by the federal government. Here are some helpful resources for you:
- Consumer Brands Association
- New York Farm Bureau
- American Farm Bureau Federation
- International Dairy Foods Association
- Wine America
Please also refer to appropriate state and federal guidance for answers to your questions. State and federal guidance may be different than what is detailed here or may have changed since this answer was posted.
If you have specific questions around ingredients, cleaning/sanitation chemicals and procedures, personnel practices, or other food safety, supply, and distribution changes due to the impact of COVID-19, reach out to our experts:
- Dairy: Rob Ralyea (email@example.com) and Kimberly Bukowski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Fresh Produce: Dr. Elizabeth Bihn (email@example.com) and Gretchen Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Processed Fruits and Vegetables: Dr. Martin Wiedmann (email@example.com) and Dr. Randy Worobo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Fermented Beverages: Dr. Anna Katharine Mansfield (email@example.com) and Chris Gerling (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- All Other Foods: Dr. Olga Padilla-Zakour (email@example.com) and Dr. Bruno Xavier (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- For Resources in Spanish: Karen Ospina (email@example.com)
Our team can also provide process authority services in case you need to change processes and/or formulations due to COVID-19 related challenges. For more information visit the Cornell Food Venture Center and for dairy-related process authority services contact Rob Ralyea (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This work is supported by USDA NIFA AFRI Grant NO:2020-68006-32875/ Accession no. 1024254 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.