by Lowell Randel, SVP, Government and Legal Affairs, Global Cold Chain Alliance
Under normal circumstances, the cold chain largely operates below the radar screen. This is a testament to the third-party logistics providers who work behind the scenes to ensure that food is stored, handled and distributed efficiently while protecting safety and quality for consumers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on the food supply chain, as consumption patterns shifted and created a surge of demand in grocery stores.
Global Cold Chain Alliance members worked around the clock with their food industry partners to make sure that consumers continued to have reliable access to safe, high-quality food. While there were short-term disruptions in managing the initial “panic buying,” the food supply chain successfully demonstrated its strength and resilience. GCCA and its members have been working closely with partners across the food industry to respond to the challenges created by the pandemic.
One of the first steps was to secure government designation of the food supply chain as a part of critical infrastructure and recognition that companies across the food industry are essential businesses that must continue to operate during the pandemic. These efforts were successful, as the Department of Homeland Security moved quickly to designate the food supply chain as essential.
Armed with the designation as essential businesses, it was important for cold chain operators to have the resources needed to navigate the pandemic. GCCA immediately went to work in developing resources to assist our members with their operations.
GCCA’s coronavirus web portal, available to members and non-members, includes the latest information on government policies, industry best practices and guidance. The association also published a Rapid Response Guide and a Recovery Guide designed to support member operations, prioritizing the safety of workers and the products they handle.
These efforts have been vital to ensuring that people across the globe continue to have access to the safest, highest quality food possible.
Companies throughout each link of the global cold chain are following industry best practices and health professional guidance to protect workers and consumers.
Employees are outfitted with personal protective equipment to maintain their health and safety in a cold environment. Companies are also conducting health screenings, instituting social distancing measures and routinely sanitizing facilities.
Recently, questions have been raised about the potential transmission of COVID-19 through food and food packaging. It is important to note that leading public health organizations continue to affirm that It is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and the primary transmission route is through person-to-person contact and through direct contact with respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The World Health Organization states that there is no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the risk of infection by the virus from food products, food packaging or bags is thought to be low.
The CDC also states that to date no cases of COVID-19 have been identified where infection was thought to have occurred by touching food, food packaging or shopping bags.
Throughout the pandemic, GCCA has relied on its Scientific Advisory Council, a panel of industry experts and scientists, for best practices and guidance. Don Schaffner of Rutgers University, an expert in microbiology and SAC member, has recently conducted studies on how long coronavirus can last on surfaces.
According to Schaffner, “Based on the science related to the survivability of the COVID-19 virus on surfaces and the fact that this is a respiratory illness, primarily transmitted person-to-person, the risk of infection through contact with food packaging is extremely low.”
GCCA commends its members and food industry partners for their tireless work to ensure that consumers continue to have access to safe, high-quality food during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of these efforts, the food supply chain has remained strong and resilient despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.