Highs And Lows Of Food Manufacturing During COVID-19
If there is anything that the entire world is together in right now, it is none other than the novel COVID-19. From the United States of America to India to Australia, numerous countries around the world seem to be combating the deadly disease. The disease has infected more than 5 million people around the world and has taken the lives of thousands. While the number of recoveries around the world is more than 2 million, the highly contagious nature of this disease is what makes it so dangerous.
COVID-19 has taken the world by a storm. Industries have shut down, people are on edge, the normal life has been disrupted significantly, and people are losing their jobs. It is hard to tell when all of this is going to end, but what we’re sure about is that the future doesn’t appear pretty from where we stand right now.
Multiple industries have been shut down their operations to combat the coronavirus. Social distancing is the only solution to this deadly disease because no known treatment or vaccine can treat it. In an attempt to reduce the physical contact, countries have declared lockdown that has forced people to stay home. While the majority of the industries have been impacted adversely, the food industry has seen a significant number of highs and lows during this dreadful time.
You may have numerous questions whose answers you just can’t seem to find. Does coronavirus infect food? Can food be the source of transmission of coronavirus? Is it safe to consume food from the market during this time? Before we can move on to answering your questions, we would first like to discuss what exactly is a coronavirus, how does it infect humans, and what makes COVID-19 infection different from the normal flu.
What Is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a one-of-its-kind infection that is characterized by flu-like symptoms. It is caused by the novel coronavirus, more specifically known as SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2). The disease first broke out in the Wuhan City of China in 2019. It was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on 31st December 2019. By 30th January 2020, WHO had declared COVID-19 as a global health emergency. In March 2020, WHO declared that COVID-19 was a global pandemic.
COVID-19 infection is characterized by flu-like symptoms, including dry cough, fever, and feelings of tiredness. People think that it is just flu and will go away in a week or two. They continue to go about their normal routines without realizing that they’re actually putting everyone they meet at the risk of getting COVID-19. Initially, the symptoms of this disease aren’t severe, but as the infection progresses, the symptoms aggravate, leading to chest pain, difficulty breathing, and loss of speech or movement.
How Is COVID-19 Transmitted?
Coronavirus is a respiratory virus. It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets when a person who is carrying the virus sneezes or coughs. The discharge from the nose and the droplets or saliva that are released during sneezing and coughing. Any person within 6 feet from the infected person may inhale or ingest the virus and get infected.
What Makes Coronavirus Different From Normal Flu Virus?
The normal flu virus affects the upper respiratory tract, that is, the throat. However, the coronavirus makes its way to the lower respiratory tract and colonizes in the lungs, making it a more serious infection. The virus spreads in the lungs rapidly and eventually causes problems like chest pain and difficulty in breathing.
The Mechanism of the Action of Coronavirus
Before we can move on to the effect of coronavirus on the food, you first need to understand how exactly does the coronavirus works.
Coronavirus is an enveloped virus that consists of a single strand of RNA, instead of DNA. Like all other viruses, the coronavirus invades a healthy human cell and co-opt some of the components of the human cell to replicate themselves, which then further infect other cells of the body. However, what makes this virus more dangerous is the presence of RNA. RNA lacks the ability to correct errors during replication. This virus mutates rapidly that is making it harder to come up with a targeted treatment.
A coronavirus consists of four distinct structural proteins. These include the envelope, nucleocapsid, membrane, and spike proteins. Spike proteins are the most critical structural proteins as these are the protrusions that bind to host cells and cause the infection. The coronavirus has the ability to infect numerous living species.
Can Coronavirus Infect Food?
So far, no evidence suggests that coronavirus can infect food and serve as a source of transmission of COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are all in the agreement that COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through food.
The Lows of Food Manufacturing During COVID-19
It won’t be wrong to say that, like other industries, the food industry has also seen a down phase due to COVID-19. Since it is a globally declared fact that the only way, so far, to protect yourself from coronavirus is to distance yourself socially, the food manufacturing industries had to take a break and ensure that all the safety measures and precautions were in place.
Also, all the restaurants and hotels have been shut down for dine-in. Hence, the demand for certain food products decreased drastically. Restaurant closures have created a ripple effect on food production and on the production of liquor and wine. The volumes that food manufacturing industries produced pre COVID-19 have greatly decreased, which has eventually hit the financials adversely.
The Highs of Food Manufacturing During COVID-19
While on the one hand, the government of several countries has shut the restaurants down, on the other hand, people have been panic-buying to ensure that they don’t fall short of essential food items of the situation gets worse.
Consumers started to fill their pantries with food shelf-stable food items lie dried beans, rice, canned goods, plant-based milk, and powdered milk. As a result, the sales of these products saw a massive hike. There was a dramatic 126% increase in powdered milk products, a 58% increase in canned meat and rice sales, and a 42% increase in the sale of water!
Panic-buying resulted in temporary shortages, but the food manufacturing industry quickly matched the pace of increased demand. Food manufacturing companies made necessary changes to their operations. They increased their production. Although the restaurants are closed, food manufacturing companies shifted their operations to meet the grown demand for groceries. They’re running at full capacities, even on weekends. It won’t be wrong to say that the food manufacturing industry is one of the few industries that have benefitted from the COVID-19 outbreak.
Other than increased demands, the food manufacturing industry has also benefitted from the fear that COVID-19 has instilled in people. They’re avoiding fresh meat, dairy, and vegetables because these food items have a greater risk of multiple human touchpoints. Hence, people are scared that the chances of transmission of coronavirus through fresh produce are greater. This has led to more people turning towards processed foods.
How Are Food Companies Coping with COVID-19
Since coronavirus doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, the only thing that companies can do is to learn to work with it. Many companies have changed the way they operate. They can’t afford to shut their operations down due to the massive increase in supply. Therefore, they’ve taken certain steps to ensure that production continues smoothly and the employees stay safe. Some of the measures that food companies have taken include:
- Prohibited its employees from traveling, internationally or domestically
- Asked its office-based employees to work from home
- Imposed strict procedures to ensure that the plant-based staff is least exposed to the virus
- Offered financial support and extended sick paid leaves to its employees
What Food Safety Measures Have Food Companies Taken?
While most of the office-based staff has been suggested to work from their homes, food companies can’t offer the same to their plant-based employees for obvious reasons. Therefore, to ensure that it’s a win-win situation for both the company and its employees, they’ve taken several food safety measures under the guidelines prepared by health organizations.
Food manufacturing companies are following Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) closely. GMP ensures that the safety and quality of the food products are consistent. It also asks the food manufacturers to focus on 5 key elements that are premises, people, processes, procedures, and products.
Food manufacturers are also following food safety plans like Hazard Analytics Critical Control Points. According to this, the safety of food is addressed through the control and analysis of chemical, biological, and physical hazards from raw materials procurement and handling. It also covers the safety and quality of food products during manufacturing, distribution, and up to the point of consumption.
Some food manufacturing companies are also trying to comply with the Global Food Safety Initiative, which is a set of stringent guidelines to ensure food quality and safety. These guidelines of these guidelines are more strict and rigorous than the regular food safety criteria. Hence, compliance with these requirements ensures that the food produced during the COVID-19 pandemic has been prepared in a safe environment and is extremely safe for human consumption.
COVID-19 has forced people to stay home. Their normal routines have been impacted drastically. However, the one thing that is still the same is their eating habits. People still need food to survive. The food manufacturing industry is one of the essential industries functioning at full throttle to meet the ever-growing demand for safe and high-quality processed foods.
COVID-19 has affected the restaurant industry drastically. Many restaurants are completely out of business. Even the restaurants that had long waiting lines pre-COVID-19 have suffered massive losses, even though home deliveries are still operating. In the times when many industries that once flourished have crippled, the food manufacturing industry continues to thrive. It is quite evident that COVID-19 has come with more highs for the food manufacturing industry than lows.
Now you’ve got answers to most of your questions. You now know that coronavirus needs living host cells to attach and cause an infection. You also know that there is no evidence that suggests that packaged food can be a source of transmission of the virus. While the fear that your food was prepared by someone suffering from COVID-19 infection might keep you from purchasing food items from your favorite restaurants, there is really no proof that it’s not safe.
You can order all the food you want. Just make sure that you discard the packaging and wash your hands to eliminate any contamination that might be present on the package!
If you’re still concerned about the safety of restaurant-made food, you can rely on manufactured, canned foods. Food manufacturing companies are doing their best to provide you high-quality and safe food items!