Canadian Occupational Safety

September/October 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 15 of 51

16 F E A T U R E ONTARIO'S ENHANCED AGRI-FOOD WORKPLACE PROTECTION PROGRAM Source: Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) How much? $2,25M, with an extra $15M committed in June What? Farm businesses can apply for up to 70 per cent funding ($7,500) Why? To purchase PPE, enhance sanitization and redesign workstations Who? Registered Ontario farm businesses, corn-detasseling businesses, off-farm primary packaging businesses for primary agricultural commodities These outbreaks raise multiple, essential questions: Why are there such outbreaks in food production facilities? What can we do to keep our workers safe? Is the food that we are putting on our tables safe for consumption? Food safety, supply chain integrity and worker safety — all of these issues intersect. Answering the question of why there are such outbreaks in food production facilities at the moment is difficult. Aforementioned living conditions for migrant workers could be a reason, as suggested by MWAC. It could be due to lack of preparedness in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, and this problem is not endemic to food production by any means; most, if not all, sectors and industries were caught off guard. Right now, the focus should be on preventing future outbreaks. Expert recommendations Ebrahim Noroozi, a food scientist with the Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry at McGill University, covered some of the most asked questions about food safety for COS. First and foremost, it is important to establish that "the main mode of transmission for COVID-19 is considered to be from person to person, mainly via respiratory droplets that infected people sneeze, cough or exhale," says Noroozi. He explains that although a recent study showed that the causal agent of the virus was shown to persist for up to 24 hours on cardboard, for example, there is no evidence that contaminated packages, which have been exposed to various environmental conditions and with someone showing symptoms. Another of Cargill's plants in Alberta recorded an even higher number of positive cases: A whopping 908 cases were recorded in early May at its High River facility. And there are many more outbreaks that have been recorded in recent months, in Alberta, Minnesota and South Dakota to name a few. On April 15, the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. had a cluster of 644 confirmed cases. At the time, it was one of the biggest outbreaks in the U.S. and accounted for 55 per cent of cases in South Dakota. "Anyone doing work, let alone essential work, as part of our food chain needs to feel protected; obviously, in the case of these three tragic deaths, that wasn't the case." Justin Trudeau, prime minister temperatures, transmit the infection. "Nonetheless, he says, "to address concerns that virus present on the skin might be able to transfer to the respiratory system — for example, by touching the face — persons handling packaging, including consumers, should adhere to the guidance of public health authorities regarding good hygiene practices, including regular and effective hand washing." This leads us to food production and whether the agri-food industry is taking measures to avoid contamination of the food it produces and/or distributes. "Strict hygiene rules already govern the production of food, and their implementation is subject to official controls, which all food businesses must apply them," says Noroozi. "The hygiene controls to be implemented by food business operators are designed to prevent the contamination of the food by any pathogens and will, therefore, also aim at preventing contamination of the food by the virus responsible for COVID-19." He explains that training actions in food businesses on all these requirements are actually mandatory, so people in the food industry should be up to date and know how to work hygienically. Among the good hygiene practices that Noroozi recommends are included: • cleaning and, where appropriate, disinfection of food-producing facilities and equipment between production lots; • avoidance of cross-contamination between categories of food and food at different stages of the process (e.g. raw versus cooked food); • personal hygiene such as washing and disinfecting hands; • wearing gloves and masks where required; • use of dedicated hygienic clothes and shoes or staying at home away from work whenever feeling ill. "Furthermore," he says, "in the present context, food businesses should limit their external contacts to the absolutely necessary; for example, with suppliers or trucks while keeping distance from the drivers." These recommendations broadly follow previous food hygiene recommendations. And while they should be strictly adhered to, it may also be a possibility that they could be harder to implement, due to current physical distancing guidelines, for example. Noroozi says that food safety "first and foremost relies on the commitment of all actors of the food chain, from farm to fork, with the primary responsibility lying on food business operators."

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