Food means joy, comfort – and frankly, employment – for many. But these days, food has too often become synonymous with uncertainty, stress, and fear.
As coronavirus began to spread in the U.S., consumers rushed to supermarkets to stock up on food and other necessary groceries. Suddenly, store shelves were empty, and grocery store workers, forced to work in their essential industry, found themselves unable to keep up with consumer demand. Soon after, however, farmers and processors around the country lost massive income when schools, restaurants, delicatessens and other foodservice providers closed their doors.
Consumer concern has escalated as stores remain unevenly stocked. While some products like toilet paper are back on shelves, others – like flour, pasta, cleaning products, frozen foods and baking supplies – are remain in short supply. Fresh chicken may be plentiful on a Monday, but the meat case might be picked clean by Tuesday.
A number of meat-processing plants, including those owned by giant processors Smithfield Foods, Tysons, Cargill and JBS USA are shuttered after too many employees tested positive for COVID-19. More meatpackers and food-processing plants are expected to follow.
The federal government has tried to reassure us that there are no nationwide shortages of food, but consumer fear hasn’t completely subsided.
At the same time, the FDA has suspended its routine inspections and all but the most vital enforcement activity. Regulatory experts warn that as the shelter-in-place orders lift, we can expect a surge of state and federal inspections of food plants – followed by warning letters, recalls and other sanctions. As they always do, reputational damage and lawsuits won’t be far behind.
Now is the time for smart food companies to be especially vigilant, re-checking safety practices in their supply chains, reviewing their own food-safety procedures, keeping meticulous records and updating their recall plans.
The added stress and pressure now felt by individuals up and down your organization make mistakes much more likely to occur. Knowing that, take the opportunity to identify vulnerabilities and assess potential risks. Pinpoint possible missteps that could cause a slip in quality or potential contamination and implement additional measures to prevent them.
Chances are you’ve already checked some or all of those boxes. But given how many directions we’re all pulled in these days, it’s easy to overlook the basics of food safety. Take the extra time to reinforce your food-safety regimen now and it will undoubtedly pay off once the pandemic has passed.