Distress For Food Business Owners During the Pandemic
Updated: Jul 6
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has brought about unprecedented times for everyone. No one could have projected that the whole world would be shut down; that the global economy would be inches away from a recession, that tourism would be restricted, or that even our education and career growth could be at stake. While the extent to which this situation could impact various sectors has been addressed time and again, we often forget that today’s state of affairs together with the post-Covid era is bound to be very stressful for food industries around the world.
Just as soon as this crisis had begun escalating the world over, with one country after the next declaring nationwide lockdowns; the World Health Organization (WHO) on 7th April 2020, provided guidelines about how food businesses could ensure food safety in a world marred by Covid-19. The recommendations make it clear that though there is no evidence that the novel coronavirus spreads from food or food packaging, it finds easy transmission via contact with respiratory droplets that can land on objects and surfaces. Research has shown that the virus can remain potent for up to seventy-two hours on plastic and stainless steel, for up to four hours on copper and for up to twenty-four hours on cardboard. Keeping in mind that the food industry consumes 40% of the world’s plastic, it is crucial for employees in the industry to ensure hygienic working conditions. For this, the WHO has developed several highly recommended guidelines. These are summarised as follows:
1. Any employees who feel unwell and/or exhibit Covid-19 symptoms like fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, etc should not be allowed to work nor should they be obligated to do so.
2. Employees must be enlightened about best practices in good staff hygiene with practical demonstrations in order to prevent the spread of the virus in their workplace. Some of these practices are listed as follows :
Proper hand hygiene: washing your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds (in accordance with the WHO’s hand-washing guidelines);
Frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers;
Good respiratory hygiene: covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, safely disposing off of used tissue papers and face masks, etc. ;
Frequent cleaning/disinfection of work surfaces and touchpoints such as door handles;
Avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness (such as coughing and sneezing).
3. Hand-gloves can be used by food- industry workers as long as they are changed frequently. Hands must be washed between glove-changes and when gloves are removed. However, disposable gloves must not be used in the workplace as a substitute for handwashing, since the novel coronavirus can find its way onto one’s hand through the use of contaminated gloves.
4. Physical distancing should strictly be followed, with workers maintaining at least one metre (three feet) distance from each other. This must be done whilst maintaining proper hand hygiene, using alcohol-based sanitizers, covering one’s nose and mouth while sneezing, and disinfecting surfaces.
5. Work staff should be trained to report to their superiors, any instances of Covid-19, at the earliest. The infected worker should then follow national guidelines to minimise the spread of infection. All those who came in contact with the patient must also be informed of this on time.
6. Drivers and other food-delivery personnel should be supplied with an alcohol-based sanitizer, a disinfectant, and paper towels. Before delivering packages, employees should sanitize their hands and also maintain the required physical distance with clients.
7. Physical distancing must also be maintained in food retail premises by placing limits on the numbers of customers who can enter the store at any one time. Placing exterior sign boards instructing consumers not to enter if they exhibit any known Covid-19 symptoms could also help.
8. Personal protective equipment (PPE) kits consisting of masks and sanitisers should be used in all workplaces in addition to physical distancing measures.
Based on the aforementioned directions proposed by the WHO, countries have devised their own food hygiene guidelines albeit with some changes. In India, these guidelines have been provided by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The FSSAI has prescribed steps to clean utensils used for food preparation/storage in four steps to minimise the virus’ spread. These are:
1. Preparation: removal of dirt and food particles and then rinsing utensils with warm and potable water.
2. Cleaning: washing utensils with hot water at ~60°C and detergent followed by a rinse using potable water.
3. Sanitizing: treating utensils with hot (~75°C) and potable water for at least two minutes.
4. Air Dying: using air drying equipment or using a draining rack.
Food business owners have incurred significantly piling losses as a result of restaurant closures and lowered service demand brought about by preventive national lockdowns globally. In most countries, only the sale and purchase of essential commodities is allowed. This slump in business has meant that mental health utilities and hospitals have been receiving distress calls from several entrepreneurs experiencing anxiety and concern about their future. Not only must proprietors like these secure a living for themselves, but must also provide for those who work for them. Food delivery platforms like Zomato and Swiggy have fired dozens of their employees to cut down on expenses. As trivial as firing scores of employees may seem, food delivery start-ups today are compelled to lay-off staff members as opposed to willfully doing so. This puts thousands of honest workers in a vulnerable position. Business owners must have to bear the brunt of the guilt brought about as a result of this; thus adding up to even more anxiety-ridden complaints across various mental health fora.
While all of the above directives are well-intentioned and legitimate, there are many reasons that spell the difficulty in perfect implementation. A number of small-scale food enterprises such as small restaurants and street vendor services often find it difficult to afford hand-gloves, sanitisers and other protective equipment. This situation is hardly helped by the fact that the public at large is increasingly apprehensive about dining at restaurants for a want of safety. Business incomes that were low thus become even lower. Together with this feedback loop, there is also the problem of enforcement. As good as best practices look when codified on paper, putting them into full practice is a task that no public administration can fully keep a track of. We then also consider the forces that law enforcers would have to grapple with- food-workers themselves. For those who’ve spent years etching out a living by working for a food joint, confessing any symptoms of Covid-19 to their employers is a huge disincentive against the drive to support themselves monetarily. Given these linkages, business owners find themselves in a position of having to sustain long-standing employee contracts all whilst their income dwindles. It is hard to understate the impact that this has on their mental health.
Another point of concern is of food business owners and/or employees having obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These people often find themselves obsessed with the fact that germs are all around, leading to compulsive cleaning and an interference to their ability to work efficiently.
Evidently, globally proliferated national lockdowns have hardly had a positive economic impact. However, the way in which they have affected individuals must not be overlooked. Be it students, teachers, employers, or their employees; everyone has had their share of the mental health impacts brought about by the pandemic in varying degrees. Recurrent episodes of anxiety attacks, depression, and OCD has become the new normal for some. Though we cannot do much to revive the food business sector and the other economic sectors as of now, the least we can do is to be kind and sensitive towards everyone. It is crucial to keep an eye on them while keeping a check on ourselves as well. Sooner or later, we will all come out of these circumstances. This transition, however, will be much better if we all choose to stand with each other.
By - Itti Mahajan Graphic By - Brijesh Kumar
References/ Read More At -
COVID-19 and Food Safety: Guidance for Food Businesses. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/covid-19-and-food-safety-guidance-for-food-businesses
FSSAI (2020, April 15). Food Hygiene and Safety Guidelines for Food Businesses during Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. Retrieved from https://fssai.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/Guidance_Note_COVID_15_04_2020.pdf
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food industry. (2020, June 14). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_on_the_food_industry
Rahman, A. P. (2020, April 04). Isolation and mental health: The psychological impact of lockdown. www.thehindu.com. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/society/isolation-and-mental-health-the-psychological-impact-of-lockdown/article31237956.ece