By Ben Chapman, Taylor O’Bannon, Matt Krug and Michelle Danyluk
If you would have asked us last September if there would still be a need to write a tip about COVID-19 a year later, our answer would have been, “We sure hope not.” So, what’s changed? The simplest explanation is the emergence of the Delta variant.
When you hear us talk about food safety, we don’t often talk about variants. Rest assured, they’re there. We’d be glad to talk to you sometime about the differences between over 2,500 serotypes of Salmonella. Just like COVID-19, they were originally named for location of emergence or after the disease they caused in animals before transitioning to numbers instead of names.
Or we could talk about the nuances of human infections or the different genotypes of norovirus. There’s a simple reason that we don’t. When we design proactive, preventive food safety programs, the controls we put in place — health and hygiene, cleaning and sanitation, using safe water and sanitizers, etc. — work to control the foodborne hazard regardless of the serotype, genotype, strain or variant of the pathogen present. Quite simply, the control strategies are going to be the same regardless of which variant is there.
The same is true for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Although there is no evidence that this virus is a food-safety concern, it remains a health concern. The control measures in place last fall to protect ourselves and our workers continue to work for the Delta variant. These measures include:
- Masking when folks are working in proximity, on transportation or indoors
- Keeping infected individuals in isolation, away from the rest of the workforce
- Practicing physical distancing as much as possible
- Continuing good hand hygiene and facility sanitation
- Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
The last bulleted point is a big one, and new, since our last COVID-19 Tip of the Week. The data continues to show that vaccines are effective and safe, and that getting vaccinated significantly reduces your chance of severe COVID-19 infection.
We encourage you to get vaccinated, and to encourage your workforce to be vaccinated. You can do this by talking to them about your own vaccine status and that of your family and community members, listening to their concerns, letting them know where vaccine sites are located, informing them when the vaccines are available and helping transport them to vaccine sites. Although the vaccine is a valuable tool in our toolkit, it’s important to continue to practice the other control measures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
University of Florida Health has a good website with information about talking to others about vaccines. Another great resource, with the advantage that it’s also available in Spanish, is a UCLA website.
For more information on COVID-19 management in the food industry, see www.foodcov.net.
Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety Extension specialist at North Carolina State University. Taylor O’Bannon is an Extension agent, Matt Krug is a state specialist Extension agent, and Michelle Danyluk is a professor — all with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
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