Managing Your Environmental Testing During the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting tremendous stress on the food supply chain, from farm-to-fork, as the industry struggles to balance increased demand with the disruptive threat of the virus on business and the workforce. For food manufacturers, an unintended consequence of actions being implemented to protect workers from COVID-19 — social-distance rules and increased hand-washing for example – is the risk caused by relaxing normal food safety procedures. Indeed, the FDA and USDA have temporarily stopped plant inspections. This presents a significant opportunity for food suppliers to mitigate through workflow automation and enabling of remote monitoring.

As we navigate through the current COVID-19 outbreak we want to ensure our Corvium community members are in the know and provided with the information needed to continue running safe and healthy operations. As always, our weekly news update posts will provide some of the highlights from the industry. We also wanted to share some thoughts specific to our community of food safety pros and the work that you are doing during this challenging time.

While there is no evidence that shows COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or it’s packaging “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads” according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Meanwhile, food suppliers have been deemed an “essential industry”, meaning that operations must continue. This, in turn, means that food safety professionals must continue their programs unabated. In this new age of COVID-19 crisis-related restrictions, the means of maintaining the continuity of your food safety program are becoming challenging.

What we can do

Food safety teams at plants that continue to operate during this time should look for ways to minimize impact on their staff. FMI recently published a document that provides best practices and operational guidance for those within the food industry on handling the issues we are facing today. “The most effective tools for food safety are the basics – handwashing, employee hygiene, following SOPs and GMPs, avoiding contamination and following well established food safety management practices and programs”. While obvious to some, proper hygiene will help keep this virus at bay.
On another level, the management of food safety and quality programs must continue unabated. Now, more than ever, food safety leaders need the ability to manage environmental monitoring program (EMP) workflows and corrective actions as they arise. In the new reality of COVID-19, and especially where travel restrictions may impede the ability to physically visit and inspect facility operations, there is a heightened need for a remote means of accessing food safety information.

If your program is still mostly paper-based, or if you are managing your testing workflows in a spreadsheet, it may be time to consider moving to an automated web-based approach.

This will enable you to manage your program remotely in the following ways:

  • Scheduling and assignment of testing and swabbing workflows
  • Collected sample data sent to your lab (internal or 3rd party)
  • Diagnostic results from the lab are automatically ingested back into the system (no manual data entry)
  • All trending, root cause analysis and corrective actions are visible on-line from any browser
  • Audit reports can be prepared and accessed through a secure reporting platform

Preparation is Key

The first question to consider, when assessing your ability to remotely manage an EMP: “Is your food safety program ‘digitized’, and is information accessible via remote connection”? . Second: “Does your remote management system enable you to rapidly alert colleagues when changes in results and KPIs necessitate on-site?” And finally… “Is the alerting system automated?” — meaning that when the data becomes available and exceeds preset thresholds, will alerts be automatically sent to relevant stakeholders?

Where to Start

At Corvium, we have partnered with Neogen to offer the most advanced EMP automation system available today. In turn, Neogen has launched “Neogen Analytics” to enable remote management of your EMP. You can learn more about their digital options for EMP management at https://www.neogen.com/solutions/services/neogen-analytics/. Neogen is also offering new customers a low cost adoption program during the COVID crisis. If you reach out to them, ask about it.

To learn more about Neogen Analytics, join us April 30th, 2020 at 8:00 AM PT | 11:00 AM EST for a live webinar demonstration. Register here: https://bit.ly/3aMAabO

We hope this information is helpful as we all navigate through this crisis together!

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