The outbreak of novel coronavirus or COVID-19 in Wuhan, China has taken the world by a storm. Since its first case was reported in December 2019, the virus has claimed more than 70,000 lives. In fact, more than a million cases have been reported worldwide and the numbers are only expected to rise in the coming weeks.
The much talked about virus hasn’t just impacted people’s health, it has hit economies too! In times of unprecedented crisis such as this, supermarkets, food processing units and restaurants (with limited services) have to be extra cautious with regards to food safety. Although there hasn’t been enough scientific backing to prove that COVID-19 can be transmitted directly through food, we can barely ignore the human element associated with the three facilities in question. When it comes to humans handling food, things become more complex and that is why it is important to train and educate them about the nature of the virus, how it came into being and how it can potentially spread.
Ever since the pandemic began, supermarkets have been the busiest places. People literally throng them to stock up essentials. Since human contact is high, infection control becomes tricky.
If you think about end-to-end processes with supermarkets, right from the time of receiving the goods until the final transaction with the customer is done, there are numerous touch points that need to be checked. This includes the integrity of packaging, the temperature and a lot more. Moreover, it is not just the employees who contribute to the human factor, it is the customers, too. Considering the complex web of people who may enter the supermarket, the common touchpoints (such as trolley handles, food products, which people may touch) are relevantly higher than in any other facility.
We spoke with Carrefour UAE about the various measures they are taking to ensure that all of their supermarkets are hygienic, disinfected and sanitised at all times. Here are some of their stringent hygiene measures taken specifically during the pandemic:
- Carrefour conducts daily cleaning of the entire shop floor pre-opening.
- It conducts second cleaning of aisle floors in textile, LHH & HHH
- Carrefour ensures ongoing cleaning of floors in the fresh food areas, including the bakery, deli, fruit and vegetables sections, butchery, fishery and food to go stand.
- Ongoing equipment and working surfaces at Carrefour are cleaned and sanitised before and after use.
- They ensure the warehouse, toilets, tabletops, and all sinks of staff kitchen and bathrooms are cleaned every two hours.
- Equipment and product receiving areas are cleaned once a day.
- Trolley handles are sanitised twice a day and thoroughly washed once a week, with baskets thoroughly cleaned once a day.
- All Carrefour cash counter conveyor belts are cleaned and sanitised twice daily upon store closure and reopening.
- Thorough cleaning of all surfaces and walls of work surfaces is done twice daily.
- Hand sanitisation for all workers and staff is ensured every hour daily.
- Carrefour utilises a disinfectant liquid in all laboratories and washrooms. All staff members are required to wash their hands before duty hours and after described practices, or when switching from one task to another.
- The ovens are thoroughly cleaned daily with deep cleaning conducted once a week.
- Disinfectant is sprayed on all trolleys, floors, walls, seating areas, staff washrooms, locker rooms, cafeterias, workstations, product receiving areas, labs, and equipment for weekly sanitization.
- The supermarket conducts periodic surface and hand swabbing samples from laboratories and staff respectively, which is checked by an external laboratory.
But that is not it. Extra measures have been put in place for combatting COVID-19. These are:
- Disinfection of product receiving areas, pellet jacks, and staff trolleys is done twice daily.
- Carrefour has distributed isopropyl alcohol/ hygienic sanitiser dispensers across all staff facilities.
- Isopropyl alcohol/hand sanitiser dispensers are also available for customers upon entrance, fresh department, and cash counters.
- Protective masks and gloves are available for customer usage at fresh areas.
- Protective masks and gloves are available for all staff. This includes employees working at the fresh section - including laboratory, food preparation, and kitchen.
- Masks and gloves are provided for e-commerce product pickers/packers and delivery drivers.
- Carrefour conducts daily temperature checks for all staff upon arrival, with continuous monitoring of employee health.
- It conducts awareness training for all staff and provides communication content across all staff areas.
- Disinfection of trolley handles is done after each use and upon return from the parking bay.
- Disinfection of cash counters, market, and HHH displays, escalator handrails, and door handles is ensured twice daily.
- Full disinfection by a third party is conducted on all surfaces (store, warehouse and offices) weekly. • All counters are sanitised with bleach twice daily.
- Acrylic glass screens are placed at store checkout counters to provide separation and reduced contact between staff and customers.
- Instructional signage is placed across all Carrefour stores to guide customers on the best social distancing practices while shopping.
- Thermal scanning is done for each person entering the Carrefour facility.
Food Processing Units
When it comes to manufacturing units, there may not be as many human touch points as there would be for a supermarket or a restaurant. But, depending on the process involved, there may be more hygiene measures, which need to be implemented for storage, distribution, reprocessing of food, packaging and a lot more. Here are a few additional measures manufacturing units can take in wake of COVID-19:
- Re-evaluate how the operation is run.
- Evaluate how the supply chain is going to impact your manufacturing process. This involves a deep study on where your suppliers are from and what is happening in their country of origin.
- Get back up suppliers on board.
- Intensify disinfection and ensure employee safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.”
However, that does not mean a person cannot contract or be exposed to the virus at a restaurant, which is after all a public area with many common touchpoints and diverse processes like defrosting, preparing, cooling, etc. Even though Municipalities across the middle east have temporarily shut down the restaurants, it doesn’t mean they don’t have to uphold stringent hygiene measures in their take-away services or once they reopen. Here are some key actions they must undertake when they restart:
Chemicals that are safe to use
The studies available show that alcohol based solvents, hydrogen peroxide based solvents and other chemicals that contain compounds like sodium hypochlorite and quaternary ammonium are effective. However, it is the nature of the cleaning agent coupled with contact time that determines the success of disinfection.
With proper training, disinfection measures, adherence to protocol and some common sense, the war of food handlers against COVID 19 can be won!