Is COVID-19 a Risk to the Food Industry?

Learn about the new coronavirus that is spreading worldwide, and what it means for your food business.
March 10, 2020

A new coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan City, China in December, 2019. Following the initial outbreak of the virus within the city, it quickly spread to 60 countries internationally. Canada’s first case was reported in late January, 2020, and the number of cases within the country is currently low. The current status of worldwide cases is listed in the World Health Organization’s situation report, which is updated daily. As of February 2020, the virus was officially named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes was named COVID-19.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are found in humans and many different species of animals such as cats, bats and cattle. There are many different coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Rarely, coronaviruses can spread from animals to humans, and consequently spread from humans to humans.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms of COVID-19 can range from a mild cough to pneumonia. In mild or moderate cases, symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • breathing difficulties

While these symptoms mimic those of the common flu, COVID-19 can cause more serious symptoms in some people. In severe cases, COVID-19 can cause more dire symptoms such as pneumonia, severe respiratory symptoms, kidney failure or death. It is still unclear why some people get more serious infections than others. However, it does appear that people in high-risk groups – such as elderly people or those with pre-existing medical conditions – have a higher chance of having severe symptoms from COVID-19. Learn more about vulnerable people in high-risk groups here.

How is COVID-19 spread?

According to the Health Canada, COVID-19 is most commonly spread through:

  • respiratory droplets that are spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • touching something with the virus on it, then touching the mouth, nose or eyes before washing hands

How does COVID-19 affect the food industry?

Currently, the greatest risk of spreading COVID-19 is through direct contact with an infected person or droplets from their cough or sneeze. This means that food businesses need to be extremely diligent with maintaining the health and hygiene procedures laid out in their Food Safety Plan.

Biological contamination of food could occur from Food Handlers that have the virus and either knowingly or unknowingly continue to work in the food premises and with food. Contamination can also occur on surfaces such as cooking equipment, chopping boards, tableware and food preparation areas – making other Food Handlers or customers on the premises at risk of contracting the virus. It is imperative that all Food Handlers know and follow proper hygiene protocols and the procedures for reporting illnesses at work.

Keep in mind that it isn’t just Food Handlers that could spread the virus in a food business. Infected customers dining at a food business can leave infected saliva droplets on surfaces when they cough or sneeze – putting Food Handlers or other customers at risk of contracting the virus. Proper cleaning and sanitizing requirements are specified by provincial and territorial regulations.
 

Prevent the spread of COVID-19 with Food Safety Training

Maintain a hygienic food business and keep the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak low by ensuring all your staff have their Food Handler certification. Trained and knowledgeable Food Handlers help to ensure that food safety, personal hygiene and cleaning and sanitizing standards are being upheld. Enrol your Food Handlers in the Canadian Institute of Food Safety’s nationally recognized Food Handler Certification Course today.