Consumers do not often give much thought to how the food on their table is produced. But concerns about food safety amidst the global pandemic have shone a spotlight on the tremendous infrastructure and workforce responsible for creating a safe and reliable food supply across the country. This year’s World Food Safety Day is an opportunity to thank those at every step along the food supply chain who have worked to ensure the stability of our food supply during COVID-19 and throughout the United States.
Consumer demand for food surged at the start of this global public health crisis, leaving some store shelves temporarily barren and shoppers searching for staple items. Yet, despite this unprecedented demand, the food supply chain remained strong because many groups—including farmers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers—worked around the clock to replenish shelves and looked to government agencies like FDA for guidance.
The farming community was among the first group of workers deemed essential by the government, and growers have overcome many issues to meet the public’s food needs in and out of the fields. Fruit farmers in the midwest began selling their products directly to consumers from their farms, for example, when they had to adjust to decreased orders from restaurants. Many farmers throughout the south are now working to ensure their crops can be harvested with fewer seasonal workers.
Food and beverage manufacturers also answered the call to make sure production facilities remained operational by implementing innovative solutions to ensure their facilities adhere to guidelines set by health officials and contribute to the effort to fight COVID-19. For example, The Hershey Company installed and staffed a new manufacturing line to produce up to 45,000 face masks per day while PepsiCo bottlers donated plastic materials to create face shields for health workers.
Local grocery stores and supermarkets stepped up by not only dealing with a huge increase in demand, but they also served more vulnerable populations by working extended hours for seniors and those at most risk of contracting the coronavirus. Family-owned grocery stores throughout the nation, including Golden Star Market in Pittsburg, Cal., also provided care packages to members of their communities who were affected by the pandemic.
Even restaurants whose businesses have been devastated by the pandemic, have reached out to their communities. FieldTrip, a restaurant in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, has donated meals to hospital workers, and Vallarta Supermarkets, a Latino-owned supermarket chain in California, has donated more than $100,000 to local non-profit groups supporting senior citizens.
It has been humbling to witness first-hand how the entire supply chain worked collaboratively to navigate COVID-19 and protect public safety at every step of the way. Operating sanitization services for the food industry throughout the country, I recognize just how difficult it is to keep operations running while putting employee health as the highest priority.
While there is still more to learn about the virus, all parties in the food supply chain have proven instrumental to meeting the demand for food in a safe and sustainable way. So this World Food Safety Day, let’s not only celebrate the role we each have to play, but also use it as an opportunity to thank the industry that worked throughout stay-at-home orders to keep food on our tables.
Jake Watts is vice president of food safety at PSSI.