COVID-19 and dairy food safety

27 March 2020

27/Mar update

Food industry regulators across Australia have developed guidance for food businesses to help manage the impacts of COVID-19. As this is a constantly changing situation, we will be providing regular updates.

Key messages

  • There is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through food or food packaging
  • Normal cleaning and sanitation measures under your approved Food Safety Program are designed to manage any COVID-19 risk to food safety
  • To ensure business continuity, a key priority is to strive to maintain the health of both yourself and your staff
  • Reinforce the necessity of good hygienic practices with all staff
  • Adopting strategies such as additional hand washing/sanitation sites, regular sanitising of commonly contacted surfaces both inside and external to production areas, promoting social distancing measures will minimise the potential for virus transfer between individuals.

COVID-19 and dairy food safety

  • Currently there is no evidence of foodborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) provides further advice about this.
  • COVID-19 is spread via person-to person transmission (coughing, contaminated surfaces and close contact with an infected individual). There is no immunity in the general human population and the disease is highly infectious.
  • Dairy food manufacturers should adopt practical measures to reduce the risk of spread between staff or to the general public. More information for businesses can be found on the Victorian DHHS website

All licensed dairy businesses in Victoria are required to have a food safety program that documents procedures to manage hazards associated with dairy food production.

At this time, it is imperative to reinforce and strictly adhere to the existing requirements of food laws, specifically:

  • Maintain and practice frequent hand washing when preparing foods, after going to the bathroom, and after touching the face or hair
  • Maintain thorough cleaning and sanitising of facilities, equipment, and transport vehicles (including food contact surfaces and equipment, but also door handles, light switches, floors, walls, and other areas)
  • Maintain strict requirements around worker health and hygiene. Any worker with a suspected communicable disease (such as coughing, sneezing, flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal illness) MUST be excluded from the workplace.

Protecting your workforce

Dairy manufacturers, like all business, have a responsibility to protect the health of staff and restrict the spread of COVID-19.

The following points highlight some of the key guidance material available for food businesses specifically regarding COVID-19. Further information is available on the Worksafe website.

Reinforce good hand hygiene

Proper hand washing is one of the most effective tools in preventing the spread of novel coronavirus.

Handwashing should be increased under the current circumstances (after going to the bathroom, touching your face, after handling food) and should be done effectively according to guidance from the Australian Government Department of Health website

Additional handwashing and sanitising points should be set up throughout the business

If you are unable to source liquid soap or hand sanitiser, a cake or bar of soap and warm running water are equally effective for good handwashing and hygiene

Review the shift arrangements and physical interaction of workforce

Changes to limit contact between workers will be effective in slowing down the spread of novel coronavirus and reduce the impact on businesses that have a staff member positive for COVID-19.

More guidance on social distancing can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Any changes to staffing arrangements should be made with consideration to maintaining the operation of food safety controls.

Increase time between shifts to minimise staff interaction and allow for increased cleaning

Separation of shifts will allow greater time for cleaning and sanitising (e.g. equipment, surfaces, common areas such as lunchrooms) to minimise the likelihood of spread between staff who may have come into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Limit the number of people in contact on a production floor where possible

In production areas or within staff teams, have the same people stand or work next to one another each day. This will limit the spread of novel coronavirus between staff should infection occur.

Review staff roles and points of contact

Restrict face-to-face meetings as much as possible. Keep any meeting to less than 15 minutes. Adopt social distancing measures as recommended by health authorities.

Identify what roles or areas within a business may be able to work from home or away from other staff.

Avoid staff congregating in carparks or other common areas after their shift.

What happens if a staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19?

In managing the impact of COVID-19, protection of public health is paramount. Quarantine of confirmed cases and close contacts is essential to prevent further illness, risk to human life, and associated burden on health resources.

Maintaining food security is also a critical function of industry and government. Shutdowns of large facilities are unlikely to be necessary or helpful in addressing public health, provided there are adequate measures in place to reduce the risk of transfer between employees. The guidance provided above in “Protecting your workforce” addresses the measures known to be effective in reducing the spread of novel coronavirus among workers.

Actions in the event of an employee diagnosed with COVID-19 required by the Department of Health:

Isolation of the infected employee

Any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 will be isolated and must follow the directions of public health authorities. They will not be released from isolation until they have recovered (tested negative).

Rapid tracing of close contacts

A business must work with local public health authorities to rapidly trace any close contact of an infected employee to minimise further risk of spread. Prompt tracing of close contacts is essential to minimise any disruption to production.

What happens to close contacts?

Close contacts will be asked to home isolate at the direction of public health authorities for 14 days. For more information see the link to Australian Government Department of Health website

What is the definition of a close contact in a food business?

Where a business is able to demonstrate good manufacturing practice and hygiene, a close contact may be defined as:

Anyone who has been within 1.5 metres of the infected employee for a cumulative period of at least 2 hours at any time in the 24 hours prior to that employee first experiencing symptoms.

AND/OR

An employee who has had face-to-face contact for a period of 15 minutes or more. This type of contact may also occur in a lunchroom, small kitchen space, or other environment (separate to a production room floor, for example)

 

Business continuity

Plan ahead with the supply of all the goods and services that are essential for maintaining production, eg sanitisers, hand towels and other supplies required to maintain hygiene. Be prepared for the possibility of delays or shortages under the current circumstances.

Food safety audits and regulatory activities

DFSV is required to undertake ongoing compliance verification audits to ensure food safety regulatory requirements are upheld. These will continue. For manufacturers DFSV is developing alternative means of achieving these outcomes and will keep our licensees informed.

Dairy farms and COVID-19

This guidance also applies to dairy farms. Additionally, Dairy Australia has useful information specific to farms on their website.

Remember that you can contact DFSV staff directly with particular queries, or via the information email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 


20/Mar update

  • DFSV is continuing to maintain business as usual at this time. If there are any concerns with access to licensed facilities by DFSV staff, please contact DFSV directly.
  • All licensed dairy manufacturers and producers in Victoria are required to have a food safety program that documents procedures to manage hazards associated with dairy food production. The existing procedures in these food safety programs (such as cleaning and sanitation and personal hygiene procedures, including worker health requirements) are designed to control the risk of contamination of food with pathogens (including viruses) that may compromise food safety. COVID-19 has not been reported to be any more resistant than other viruses or bacterial agents of concern to food safety and as such should be adequately managed by these policies and procedures.
  • Food safety programs also address and manage the hazards associated with ill workers in a food manufacturing environment. These procedures include exclusion of personnel suffering from illness and may include heightened cleaning and sanitation efforts to minimise risk of transmission (irrespective of the type of illness).
  • Reinforcing these procedures and ensuring that they are strictly enforced at this time is imperative.
  • The primary consideration for employers is to take actions to protect other employees that may have come in contact with the ill employee. Where a worker experiences symptoms, they should seek advice from Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. Separate advice for employers is provided by the Australian Government Department of Health. The government guidelines for restrictions on those who have been in close contact (as defined by DHHS) with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 would apply where appropriate.
  • There has been NO evidence of the transmission of COVID-19 through food or food packaging. Further information on COVID-19 and food safety is available from FSANZ, EFSA and FDA.
  • The US EPA maintains a list of disinfectants effective for use against COVID-19. However it is important to ensure that these are suitable and approved for use in food manufacturing in Australia.
  • Dairy Australia have also provided useful information on COVID-19 on their website.