Webinar: Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: The Impact of the COVID 19 Pandemic on Food Safety Systems

Webinar recording date: Friday, June 5th 12pm-1pm EDT

The webinar focuses on the challenges that have faced state and local food safety systems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Featured speakers:

 Jamie Higley , RS, REHS, Administrator, Food Safety Program, Ohio Department of Health

 Terri Gerhardt, Chief, Division of Food Safety, Ohio Department of Agriculture

 Laura Morrison, Managing Director of Membership and Employer/Food Safety , Ohio Restaurant Association

 Garrett Guillozet , MPA, RS/REHS, AEMT, Division Manager, Environmental Health, Franklin County Public Health Department Register

Webinar Questions and Responses

Guidelines

  • How are food service and manufacturing operations handling facial coverings? Do reusable masks increase food safety risk?
    • The Dine Safe Ohio order requires all employees of restaurants, bars, banquet and catering facilities/services to wear facial coverings. Exemptions are available if facial coverings are not advisable for health reasons or in violation of documented safety practices. For the full guidance visit: https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/Restaurants-and-Bars.pdf
  • What are the buffet servicing guidelines for FOH and BOH set ups?
    • Self-service buffets and product samples are prohibited. Salad bars and buffets are permitted if served by staff with safe six feet social distancing between parties.
  • How can farm markets safely operate during the pandemic and what will their role be in the future?
  • What are the new guidelines for kitchen food prep; as a non-profit that provides free meals 2x/week, is using to-go boxes preferred?
  • Are there any special considerations for our school food service systems?
  • What are the safety procedures put in place to maintain clean and safe packaging?
  • I work in a non-profit mental health center in Toledo where we provided free lunch Fri. & Sat. pre pandemic. When we reopen, should we follow the restaurant guidelines presented, use to-go boxes, do we need to be inspected pre-opening?
  • Given the switch in the food markets, what efforts has Ohio taken to develop new ways to re-distribute foods, especially those that are perishable?
    • Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences has developed a working group to support growers and livestock producers through challenges caused by COVID-19 and a task force dedicated to keeping Ohio’s food supply chain intact. More information about the COVID-19 Crisis Working Group for Specialty Crop Producers and the CFAES Lean on Your Land Grant Food Supply Chain Task Force can be found in this article: https://cfaes.osu.edu/news/articles/new-cfaes-groups-assist-ohio-food-producers-consumers-during-pandemic

Virus transmission/ Testing

  • Is there a possibility of transmitting the virus through contaminated raw food?
  • If there is concern about sharing straws or drinks because of coronavirus germs in a person's mouth, why isn't there similar concern about contracting the coronavirus when putting food with coronavirus germs in one's mouth?
    • The virus that causes COVID-19 causes respiratory symptoms. It is not a foodborne illness, and there is currently no evidence that it can be spread through food. Virus particles are shed through respiratory droplets produced when an infected individual talks, coughs, or sneezes. Straws and shared drinks are potential vehicles for the spread of these droplets, which can cause disease if inhaled. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html
  • What are the panelists’ thoughts re: COVID 19 testing of employees on farm, at manufacturing and restaurants?               
    • Testing would be helpful, but it is limited to the specific time of the test. Continued protection by washing hands, staying home when ill, and using a face covering are the best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Surveillance/ Inspections

  •  What impact has the COVID-19 outbreak had on foodborne illness surveillance?
    • According to FDA, CDC, FDA, and FSIS continue to work with state and local partners to investigate foodborne illnesses and potential outbreaks. FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network manages outbreak response, as well as surveillance and post-response activities related to incidents involving multiple illnesses linked to FDA-regulated human food products, including dietary supplements, and cosmetic products. During the coronavirus outbreak, CORE’s full-time staff will continue to operate to prepare for, coordinate and carry out response activities to incidents of foodborne illness. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
  • Is there a resource for ODH inspection protocol? Curious what kind of auditing, monitoring, and sampling is done during an inspection
    • Inspection protocols vary based on the entity that is being inspected and the unit carrying out the inspection. The Ohio Department of Health has several bureaus and offices that carry out inspections, such as the Bureau of Environmental Health & Radiation Protection, Bureau of Regulatory Operations, and Bureau of Survey & Certification. Additional information about their inspection protocols can be found at the links above.

Panelist Opinions/ Other

  • What are the most pressing food safety concerns with respect to COVID-19?
    • Terri: It is not a food safety issue, it is an employee health issue, which can lead to not having enough workers.
    • Jamie: The most important ways to reduce the spread of the virus is social distancing, wear a face covering, stay home if you are ill, wash hands often, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and employee training.  The virus cannot be spread through food.
  • What sector of the food industry has been affected the most by COVID-19?
    • Terri: Those industries where employees work close together or have close interaction with the public.  Meat processing plants have been hard hit because of how many of the employees live close together, commute to work together and are physically close in the work environment.  In Ohio we have not had problems in non-meat facilities.  I think it is because there is more room in these plants.
    • Jamie: From what I have read, food manufacturing, warehouses and processing establishments have had the highest number of cases among the food industry.
  • How we can convince people what a great problem food security is compared to food safety? mostly in developing nations
    • Terri: Not an easy sell. It may be a bit easier now that we have had “shortages” in the US because of Covid-19.
  • Do all of you feel safe going out to eat or taking your family out to eat right now?
    • Terri: I am not ready to go to a restaurant yet and I don’t know when I will feel ready.
    • Garret: Feeling safe while dining is subjective. However, I do believe that as long as the proper precautions are taken, there is no increased risk to the people who dine out. Especially if masks are worn and proper social distancing is maintained.
    • Jamie: Yes, I have dined in restaurants since they reopened.
  • Would it be possible for someone from academia, health, agriculture, -or the Restaurant Association to set up an online forum to allow us (sanitarians/environmental health) talk to each other and view how other health departments are planning for reopening, responding to complaints, and promoting safe behaviors? Note the San4um, the Food Safety network and NCLEHA are no longer operational.
    • This is a very good suggestion and we are looking into this is something that CFI could facilitate. We will contact registrants if it becomes a possibility. The Ohio Environmental Health Association has a private social media page that can also be used for this purpose. For more information, please visit http://www.ohioeha.org/.