March 23, 2020

Produce Marketing Association issues coronavirus guidelines

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) issued the following statement March 22 from chief science officer Max Max Teplitski on the coronavirus pandemic and food safety.

“Over the weekend, our team analyzed recent documents posted by the World Health Organization and US federal agencies (FDA, EPA, DHS and OSHA) that relate to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation. This digest mostly deals with two questions: (1) what happens if an employee at a food processing facility tests positive for COVID-19 and (2) what measures to put in place to limit person-to-person transmission at your food facility.

The attached file contains a draft of the flyer to share with your employees in a breakroom or in your facility.
A PMA-issued worker safety list to post in your facility. To download a copy, follow the link at left.

Digest of the WHO, US FDA, CDC, DHS, OSHA, U.S. Equal Employment Commission and EPA guidance to the industry on additional COVID 19-related measures

1. Workers in the human and animal food and feed sector are considered part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce based on the 3/19/2020 DHS CISA Memorandum on identification of essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 responsei.
2. Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses (like norovirus and hepatitis A) that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmissionii
3. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. This includes between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
4. Compulsory temperature taking and health assessment. Elevated body temperature is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, therefore temperature taking may be a way to identify potentially sick employees. In the United States, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an update to its guidance that now expressly acknowledges that employers may implement temperature screening measures in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. ADA-covered employers are also allowed to inquire whether an employee has symptoms of COVID-19, and require testing for COVID-19 prior to employmentiii.
Outside of the United States, National Law Reviewiv suggests that temperature taking is likely to be considered impermissible in Canada unless a bona fide occupational requirement could be established. European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and most other data-privacy laws would generally prohibit employers from conducting temperature scans as GDPR considers health data to be “sensitive personal data” that an employer would need an exception to implement. While country-specific practices vary, temperature checks may be acceptable with the consent or approval of relevant employee consultative bodies (e.g., Works Councils), provided they are self-administered or conducted by medical staff or reliable automated technology. Nevertheless, temperature checks are increasingly seen throughout Europe.
Companies considering compulsory temperature taking, are advised to weigh several issues prior to the implementation (e.g. who will administer checks, how to enforce compliance, contingencies, etc.)v
5. If a worker in a food processing facility tested positive for COVID-19vi
A. Employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality.
B. Sick employees should follow the CDC’s guidelinesvii. Briefly, those with severe symptoms (shortness of breath, chest pains, confusion, bluish lips or face) should seek immediate medical care, call 9-1-1 and wear a mask when the paramedics arrive. Those experiencing mild symptoms should stay home and get in touch with their doctor. They should isolate themselves in a separate room in the house as much as possible, limit contact with pets and family members, clean hands often and wear a mask, avoid sharing utensils and facilities with family members and implement a cleaning strategy. For those who have not been tested for COVID-19, self-isolation ends 72 hours after the fever ends (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and symptoms subside and at least seven days after the onset of symptoms. For those who have tested positive for COVID-19, follow instructions above and have two negative COVID-19 tests in a row and consult their treating physician about returning to work.
C. Additional cleaning efforts must be in place. EPA continues to update the list of disinfectants thought to be effective against SARS-CoV-2. On it are commonly used solutions containing hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite and sodium chlorite, ethanol and isopropanol, quaternary ammonium, acids (hydrochloric, hypochlorous, octanoic, peroxyacetic, citric, L-lactic and glycolic), thymol, phenolic, and silver ion. The list (including supplier names) can be found on the EPA websiteviii.
D. FDA is clear in that food products would not need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19, as there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packagingix.
E. In determining whether/when/how to close a food facility if a worker tested positive for COVID-19, facilities need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a given area. These decisions will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission – not based on food safety.
6. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in food facilities.
FDA, CDC and WHO are unanimous in their assertion that currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person.  Measures below, therefore, intend to limit the spread of COVID-19 from person-to-person.
A. FDA-regulated food manufacturers are required to follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) and food safety plans that include a hazards analysis and risk-based preventive controls. CGMPs and food safety plans have requirements for maintaining clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces.
B. If wearing masks and disposable gloves is already a part of a facility’s CGMP and food safety plan, now is not the time to discontinue the practice.  Ensure that masks are worn properly (and cover the entire mouth and nose).
C. Food facilities are required to use EPA-registered “sanitizer” products in their cleaning and sanitizing practicesx.
D. Food facilities should consider a more frequent cleaning schedule.
E. Promote frequent and thorough hand washing, including by providing workers, customers, and worksite visitors with a place to wash their hands. If soap and running water are not immediately available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
F. Provide employees and customers with tissues and trash receptacles.
G. Limit access to the facilities to only essential staff.
H. Limit contact of delivery drivers with the staff, if appropriate, time deliveries and pick-ups for the times when the fewest workers are present at the facility.
I. Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment. Telephones are known to have the highest pathogen loadxi. Explore requiring employees to leave phones in their lockers and check them during breaks, phones must be sanitized before and after breaks.
J. Develop policies and procedures for employees to report when they are sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Note that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explicitly allows ADA-covered employers to both inquire whether employees have symptoms of COVID-19 and measure employee’s temperaturexii.
K. Where appropriate, employers should develop policies and procedures for immediately isolating people who have signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19, and train workers to implement them. Move potentially symptomatic people to a location away from workers, customers, and other visitors. Although most worksites do not have specific isolation rooms, designated areas with closable doors may serve as isolation rooms until potentially sick people can be removed from the worksite. Provide a face mask to a symptomatic person and appropriate PPE. Restrict the number of personnel entering isolation areas.
L. Develop, implement, and communicate about workplace flexibilities and protections:
  • Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
  • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
  • Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work.
  • Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
  • Recognize that workers with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them. See CDC’s Interim Guidance for Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in Homes and Residential Communitiesxiii.
  • Be aware of workers’ concerns about pay, leave, safety, health, and other issues that may arise during infectious disease outbreaks.
  • Provide adequate, usable, and appropriate training, education, and informational material about business-essential job functions and worker health and safety, including proper hygiene practices and the use of any workplace controls (including PPE). Informed workers who feel safe at work are less likely to be unnecessarily absent.
  • Work with insurance companies (e.g., those providing employee health benefits) and state and local health agencies to provide information to workers and customers about medical care in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
M. Implement workplace controls. In addition to the controls under the CGMP and Food Safety Plan, OSHA recommends:
  • Engineering controls: installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates in the work environment and installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards as appropriate.
  • Administrative controls: staggered shifts, minimizing contact between workers and customers
  • Safe workplace practices: resources to ensure hand washing, hygiene and sanitation practices xiv xv
This digest is based on: