The coffee industry (along with so many others across the globe) is facing real challenges, and we all want to make sure that we are doing our best to stop the spread of the virus while also keeping our businesses afloat. 

COVID-19 and Food Safety: An Expert’s Advice For Specialty Coffee Businesses

On Friday, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) hosted a webinar with a food safety expert to discuss initiatives to cope with everything that is going on in the world right now. They gave lots of valuable takeaway tips, that we can all apply to our businesses to help manage these risks and stay safe.  

The virus is not transmitted by food, but there are still risks. 

One of the main points that was stressed by the expert was that the virus is a moving target – things are ever changing, and there are lots of things about it that we still don’t know yet. 

But, according to the World Health Organisation and the American Food and Drug Agency (FDA), food is not a source of transmission. The virus is respiratory, and it does not appear to be transmitted by food. Currently, the FDA sees no issues and predicts no major changes to the coffee industry’s operations in the upcoming months, because they don’t consider food as a virus transmission factor. 

Knowing this, it is then critical that you understand the hazards that do exist in your business, and how to limit the risks. 

The New England Journal of Medicine released tests showing how long the virus lasts on different surfaces if they are not cleaned. The virus remains airborne for 3 hours, survives on plastic surfaces for 3 days, metal for 3 days, cardboard for 1 day and copper for 4 hours. This also means that there is a very low risk for transported goods (like the green beans) that take a long time to travel. 

Managing in-house hazards and appropriate preventative measures

In terms of in-house hazards, the likelihood is that, at some point, one of your employees will test positive for the virus. The immediate protocols if this happens should be to:

  • Inform all employees immediately
  • Work with local health officials on what they may require
  • Clean and sanitise thoroughly
  • But thankfully, according to the FDA, they would not require you to put food or coffee on hold or recall. 

In terms of preventative measures, to help minimise the chance of this happening, you can consider introducing the following factors:

  • Employee separation – on a case-by-case basis, consider how you could increase the distance between your employees. Could you introduce separate entrances for employees coming in on different shifts?
  • Use masks and gloves – consider whether this should be a requirement for certain areas, particularly if somebody is customer-facing. It is recommended that you change your gloves multiple times a day.
  • Could you check the temperatures of individual employees as they come in? This would stop any employee coming in to work who has the virus. 
  • Could some of your staff work from home? This would minimise the risk of spreading the virus among your workforce. 
  • Could you consider banning or restricting the use of mobile phones in the plant? (These are a major germ spreader!)
  • Don’t allow any visitors to the factory or roastery. 
  • Have some discussions about cross training and backup planning – such as having a backup transportation company, and training someone else who could step in if the head roaster gets sick.

So what should we do now? 

Hazards can occur at any stage of the food supply stage, so ask yourself whether all of the constituent elements in your business (from packaging to roasting) have the appropriate measures in place. 

Locally, regionally and internationally, the situation is changing continuously, so implement strategies to manage the shifting situation. With this in mind, the key next steps should be to: 

  • Review your food safety plan – have it built into the DNA of your company and make it a priority at all stages.
  • Focus on personal hygiene, sanitary operations and sanitary facilities and controls.
  • Perform a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) gap analysis – you should get your GMP’s up to 90%. 
  • Or perform an internal audit – consider whether you are really meeting the standards that you think you are, and whether anything needs to be upgraded to meet the demands of this new virus.
  • Review your sick leave policy – make it easy for staff to stay at home if they’re sick. This will encourage them to not come in if they have COVID-19. 

On the whole, keep yourself informed and stay on top of the current situation. As the coffee community, we need to work together to continue to support each other through this tough time.

This was the first of many planned webinars from the SCA, providing key information for businesses in the wake of the upheaval caused by the virus. The organisations below have provided lots of useful links and resources, if you require more information: 

  • Centre for Disease Control
  • National Coffee Associations
  • Specialty Coffee Association
  • European Food Safety Authority
  • World Health Organisation
  • Local health authorities