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Blog – COVID-19 Control in Food Industry

Using Science, Technology, and Regulations to Control
COVID-19 in Food Industries

Before discussing the presence and control of CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) in food processing establishments, the presence of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and mold in the air will be explained briefly. The science that studies microorganisms in the air is called air microbiology, aeromicrobiology or atmospheric microbiology. Like controlling any other environmental pathogens, to control them we must know their characteristics , such as morphology, physiology, genetic systems and what conditions and factors they favor and what they do not.

Bacteria, viruses and molds are everywhere. They are in air, soil, water, foods, clouds, offices, food processing facilities, gardens, and are on cars, roads, buildings, hands, hairs, skins, cloths, shows, aprons, gloves, and food contact and non-food contact surfaces.
The movement of air, products and people transfer them from one place to another, from one country to another and from one continent to another. We all share the same atmosphere, the same planet.
Environmental pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella spp. have been a major problem for the food industry and now there is CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19), not just for the food industry but almost for all industries. It has caused a pandemic.
As part of the global ecosystem, this virus has been successful to cross all national, organizational and institutional barriers. It has attacked people by air, land, fomites (surfaces), and water, but mostly by aerial attack.
To control them, like controlling all the pathogens in history, we must methodically study them, seek them and destroy them.
We are going to discuss aerosols, bioaerosols, infectious dust, droplets, and how CORONAVIRUS moves around and causes illness, and most importantly how to protect ourselves and our industries.

The picture on the left is by CDC.

Viruses are said to be very small packages of problems with the core made of DNA or RNA and enveloped by proteins. Viruses are considered microorganisms but are not alive. Viruses don’t need food and cannot reproduce. Viruses only can reproduce and make trillion copies of themselves by taking over the replication machinery of living cells like cells in our lungs and basically ordering our cells to make copies of the viruses and literally clogging the airways in the case of coronavirus. Viruses not only invade human cells but plants, animals even bacteria. Millions of them can be found in one gram of soil.
Then the question is how the thinnest microorganism called corona- virus that cannot eat, walk, fly or reproduce literally invaded every corner of the planet and the safest and securest buildings.
The answer is with the help of air, people, living and nonliving surfaces and targeting mostly those with weak immune systems.

The coronavirus diagram to the right is the courtesy of Open Learning. The RNA in the center is the genetic material warped around by the proteins. The protein spikes will attach to human lung cells and enter the cell.
The name of the virus is SARS-CoV-2 and the disease is called COVID-19.

Breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing introduce coronavirus to the air, people, and surfaces. Courtesy of World Heart Federation and Eurofins

“Animals can sometimes carry harmful germs that can spread to people and cause illness – these are known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses. Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi. These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illness and even death. Animals can sometimes appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick, depending on the zoonotic disease.”
They spread through direct contact, indirect contact, vector-borne , such as being beaten by a tick , or are food-borne or water-borne.
Zoonotic diseases are very common, both in the United States and around the world. Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. Because of this, CDC works 24/7 to protect people from zoonotic diseases in the United States and around the world.
Source CDC
The image shows that we also transmit germs to animals. It is a two- way transmission.

Lung Anatomy, the Main Target for CORANAVIRUS Destruction

We are covered and surrounded by bacteria, viruses, mold and yeasts. Actually 90% of the living cells that make our body are not ours, they are mostly bacteria and are not mostly pathogenic but even helpful. Even not all viruses are pathogenic; some actually help us to destroy pathogenic bacteria. They generally become problems when they win the war with our body’s defense system – the immune system.
The picture on the right shows how our antibodies of our immune system are attacking the antigens that are viruses.

Science of Aerosols -Bioaerosals and CORONOVIRUS
Aerosols: Tiny Particles, Big Impact – By NASA

“Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it’s nearly certain that you’ll inhale tens of millions of solid particles and liquid droplets. These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, and they can be found in the air over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice, and every ecosystem in between. They drift in Earth’s atmosphere from the stratosphere to the surface and range in size from a few nanometers—less than the width of the smallest viruses—to several several tens of micrometers—about the diameter of human hair. Despite their small size, they have major impacts on our climate and our health.”
Tiny solid and liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere are called aerosols. Examples of aerosols include windblown dust, sea salts, volcanic ash, smoke from fires, and pollution from factories. These particles are important to scientists because they can affect climate, weather, and people’s health. Aerosols affect climate by scattering sunlight back into space and cooling the surface. Aerosols also help cool Earth in another way — they act like “seeds” to help form clouds. The particles give water droplets something to cling to as the droplets form and gather in the air to make clouds. Clouds give shade to the surface by reflecting sunlight back into space. People’s health is affected when they breathe in smoke or pollution particles. Such aerosols in our lungs can cause asthma or cancer of other serious health problems. But scientists do not fully understand all of the ways that aerosols affect Earth’s environment. To help them in their studies, scientists use satellites to map where there were large amounts of aerosols on a given day, or over a span of days.”

These scanning electron microscope images (not at the same scale) show the wide variety of aerosol shapes. From left to right: volcanic ash, pollen, sea salt, and soot. [Micrographs courtesy USGS, UMBC (Chere Petty), and Arizona State University (Peter Buseck).]

This map shows the global distribution of aerosols and the proportion of those aerosols that are large or small. Intense colors indicate a thick layer of aerosols. Yellow areas are predominantly coarse particles, like dust, and red areas are mainly fine aerosols, like smoke or pollution. Gray indicates areas with no data. (NASA map by Robert Simmon, based on MODIS data from NASA Earth Observations.)

Atmospheric Movement of Microorganisms in Clouds of Desert Dust and Implications for Human Health
Dale W. Griffin, U.S. Geological Survey
This article names many microorganisms in the clouds of dust that circle the globe.

Primary sources of desert dust and their atmospheric pathways. (1) During summer in the Northern Hemisphere (approximately June through October), African desert dust is transported across the Atlantic to the northern Caribbean and North America. (2) During winter in the Northern Hemisphere (approximately November through May), African desert dust is transported across the Atlantic to the southern Caribbean and South America. (3) The Asian dust season typically lasts from late February to late April. (4) Large Asian dust events can travel significant distances in the Northern Hemisphere. Yellow lines show Asian desert dust atmospheric routes, orange lines show African dust routes, brown lines show routes of other desert dust sources, and broken black lines depict wind patterns. (Base map image courtesy of NASA’s Geospatial Interoperability Office, GSFC [].)

African and Asian dust storms. Stars identify dust cloud source regions, and arrows identify dust clouds and the general direction of movement. (A) NASA image, via the moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite, of a dust storm blowing over the Sea of Japan on 1 April 2002. (Image courtesy of Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/Goddard Space FlightCenter.) (B) NASA image, via MODIS, of a dust storm blowing out of Africa over the Mediterranean Sea in the direction of Turkey. The black spot in the tongue of dust is the Troodos mountain range of Cyprus, which protrudes through the top of the dust cloud. The image was taken on 25 February 2006. (Courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.) (C) NASA Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS) image of a large dust cloud blowing across the Atlantic. The image was taken on 19 July 2005 and is courtesy of the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE. This dust cloud impacted the air quality in Florida. Air-borne particle measurements taken by the author with a handheld laser particle counter south of Tampa Bay, FL, went from 2.6 ⫻ 106m⫺3on 15 July 2005 (normal clear atmosphere) to 26.1 ⫻ 106m⫺3on 25 July 2005 (dust conditions). Over 90% of the particles ranged from ⬎0.3 to0.5 ␮m in size

The dynamic contact between water, air and land transfers microorganisms, including coronavirus, to different areas.

Bioaerosols and CORONAVIRUS
Air, The Home of CORONAVIRUS
The only way this virus could spread so fast globally, was mainly through the air.
The air that we all share.

Aerosols are suspended fine solids and liquids in air or any other gas. Mist and fog are natural and and air pollutants generated by human activities are another example of aerosols. Bioaerosols are aerosols that include “all solid and liquid particles of biological origin” such as viruses, pollen, and bacteria – dead or alive.
Common sources of bioaerosols are water, soil, and sewage. Millions of bacteria and viruses are in every gram of soil. Wind and human activities launch them into the air, and are used as nuclei in cloud formation and transferred from one region to another through wind and cloud.
Breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing can bioaerosolize bacteria or viruses such as CORONAVIRUS and launch and distribute them in the air.
“Sources of microbial bioaerosols in the built environment may include humans; pets; plants; plumbing systems; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; mold; resuspension of settled dust; and outdoor air. The green and red dots represent microorganisms [bacteria, viruses] that may be beneficial or detrimental to human health, respectively”. Artwork by Tim Skiles “-
Courtesy of ResearchGate

The Layers of Atmosphere

The image is the courtesy of University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)
The shows the global circulation of air and how this can this launch and distribute bacteria and viruses. The image is the courtesy of Internet Geography.

The Control of CORONOVIRUS in the Food Industry Environment

People and Other Inputs Can Introduce CORONAVIRUS to the Facility.

This diagram shows the many national and global sources that can introduce pathogens to a facility and how to control them.

CORONAVIRUS Can be Introduced into Raw Materials and other Ingredients along the National and Global Food Supply Chains

This image shows a food facility as an ecosystem and where CORONAVIRUS can be found anywhere if not controlled.

This image shows the interaction of agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors as routes of contamination of raw materials and other ingredients.

Meat and Poultry Processing Workers and Employers
Interim Guidance from CDC and
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus called SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms often include a fever, cough, and shortness of breath and can range from very mild to severe. Some people become so sick they must be admitted to the hospital, and some people may die from the illness. Our understanding about the new virus and how the virus spreads is evolving as we learn more about COVID-19, so check the CDC website for the latest information. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet, which is about two meters).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

Recent studies indicate that people who are not showing symptoms can spread the virus. It may also 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 own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus. Workers at higher risk for serious illness include older adults and people of any age with chronic medical conditions. Policies and procedures addressing issues related to workers at higher risk of serious illness should be made in consultation with occupational medicine and human resource professionals.

Exposure risk among meat and poultry processing workers

Workers involved in meat and poultry processing are not exposed to SARS-CoV-2 through the meat products they handle. However, their work environments—processing lines and other areas in busy plants where they have close contact with coworkers and supervisors—may contribute substantially to their potential exposures. The risk of occupational transmission of SARS-CoV-2 depends on several factors. Some of these factors are described in the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of and Health and Human Services’ booklet Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19pdf iconexternal icon. Distinctive factors that affect workers’ risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in meat and poultry processing workplaces include:

  • Distance between workers – meat and poultry processing workers often work close to one another on processing lines. Workers may also be near one another at other times, such as when clocking in or out, during breaks, or in locker/changing rooms.
  • Duration of contact – meat and poultry processing workers often have prolonged closeness to coworkers (e.g., for 10-12 hours per shift). Continued contact with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
  • Type of contact – meat and poultry processing workers may be exposed to the infectious virus through respiratory droplets in the air – for example, when workers in the plant who have the virus cough or sneeze. It is also possible that exposure could occur from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, such as tools, workstations, or break room tables. Shared spaces such as break rooms, locker rooms, and entrances/exits to the facility may contribute to their risk.
  • Other distinctive factors that may increase risk among these workers include:
    • A common practice at some workplaces of sharing transportation such as ride-share vans or shuttle vehicles, car-pools, and public transportation.
    • Frequent contact with fellow workers in community settings in areas where there is ongoing community transmission.

Create a COVID-19 assessment and control plan

  • A qualified workplace coordinator should be identified who will be responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control planning.
  • All workers in the facility should know how to contact the identified coordinator with any COVID-19 concerns.
  • Infection control and occupational safety and health plans should apply to anyone entering or working in the plant (e.g., all facility workers, contractors, and others).
  • Facility management should reach out to state and/or local public health officials and occupational safety and health professionals and establish ongoing communications to make sure they are getting relevant and up-to-date information concerning COVID-19.
  • The workplace coordinators and management should also be aware of and follow all applicable federal regulations and public health agency guidelines.
  • Worksite assessments to identify COVID-19 risks and prevention strategies should be done periodically as part of sound occupational health and public health practice.
  • As part of these assessments, facilities should consider the appropriate role for testing and workplace contact tracing (identifying person-to-person spread) of COVID-19-positive workers in a worksite risk assessment, following available CDC guidance.

HIERARCHY OF CONTROLS Applied to Controlling COVID-19

Worker infection prevention recommendations are based on an approach known as the hierarchy of controls. This approach groups actions by their effectiveness in reducing or removing hazards. In most cases, the preferred approach is to eliminate a hazard or processes; install engineering controls; and implement appropriate cleaning, sanitation, and disinfection practices to reduce exposure or shield workers. Administrative controls are also an important part of an approach to prevention in these workplaces.

The idea behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of graphic are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following this hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced.
NIOSH leads a national initiative called Prevention through Design (PtD) to prevent or reduce occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities through the inclusion of prevention considerations in all designs that impact workers. Hierarchy of controls is a PtD strategy. To learn more, visit the PtD website.

One of the best ways to prevent and control occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities is to “design out” or minimize hazards and risks. NIOSH leads a national initiative called Prevention through Design (PtD). PtD’s purpose is to promote this concept and highlight its importance in all business decisions.
PtD encompasses all of the efforts to anticipate and design out hazards to workers in facilities, work methods and operations, processes, equipment, tools, products, new technologies, and the organization of work. The focus of PtD is on workers who execute the designs or have to work with the products of the design. The initiative has been developed to support designing out hazards, the most reliable and effective type of prevention.

Engineering Controls of COVID-19

How to align workers

Configure communal work environments so that workers are spaced at least six feet apart, if possible. Current information about the asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2 supports the need for social distancing and other protective measures within a meat and poultry processing work environment. Changes in production practices may be necessary in order to maintain appropriate distances among workers.
Modify the alignment of workstations, including along processing lines, if feasible, so that workers are at least six feet apart in all directions (e.g., side-to-side and when facing one another), when possible. Ideally, modify the alignment of workstations so that workers do not face one another. Consider using markings and signs to remind workers to maintain their location at their station away from each other and practice social distancing on breaks.
Use physical barriers, such as strip curtains, plexiglass or similar materials, or other impermeable dividers or partitions, to separate meat and poultry processing workers from each other, if feasible.
Facilities should consider consulting with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning engineer to ensure adequate ventilation in work areas to help minimize workers’ potential exposures.
If fans such as pedestal fans or hard mounted fans are used in the facility, take steps to minimize air from fans blowing from one worker directly at another worker. Personal cooling fans should be removed from the workplace to reduce the potential spread of any airborne or aerosolized viruses. If fans are removed, employers should remain aware of, and take steps to prevent, heat hazardsexternal icon.
Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene. If possible, choose hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free. See OSHA’s Sanitation Standard (29 CFR 1910.141external icon), which requires employers to provide handwashing facilities for workers.
Add additional clock in/out stations, if possible, that are spaced apart, to reduce crowding in these areas. Consider alternatives such as touch-free methods or staggering times for workers to clock in/out.
Remove or rearrange chairs and tables, or add partitions to tables, in break rooms and other areas workers may frequent to increase worker separation. Identify alternative areas to accommodate overflow volume such as training and conference rooms, or using outside tents for break and lunch areas.

Other Controls in the Interim Guidance

  • Administrative Controls
  • Cloth face coverings in meat and poultry processing facilities
  • Educate and train workers and supervisors about how they can reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Cleaning and disinfection in meat and poultry processing
  • Screening1 and monitoring workers
  • Screening of workers for COVID-19
  • Managing sick workers
  • Addressing return to work
  • For workers who have had signs/symptoms of COVID-19
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Workers’ rights

Examples of Posters by CDC

How to protect youself from COVID-19
This Image by CDC states steps that should be followed to protect ourselves from COVID-19.

The name of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). As the name shows the disease is severe respiratory disease and its targets are lungs. The function of the respiratory system is mainly to take the hopefully good air into the lungs (inhale) and exhale the bad one. Coronavirus basically spreads all over the globe through the air. Breathing, coughing, talking, sneezing by persons having the virus and with no face cover launches and distributes virus to the air and lands them in the respiratory systems of others without face covers.
In the food industry we have been using food safety principles of USDA HACCP and FDA HACCP and FSMA to control dangerous food-borne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Hepatitis A, norovirus and many more for a long time. We control them in the air, water, food, and the environment. Now we need to use all the knowledge and experience of controlling food-borne pathogens and more to control the CORONAVIRUS. The best analogy that I have for controlling this virus through the right face covering at the right place is using bullet -proof vests. As a bullet -proof vest protects a vital organ such as the heart from the bullets, the right face covering can protect another vital organ called the lungs. All necessary preventive measures and safeguards should be established to prevent the entry of this virus into our respiratory system.

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