20 May 2020
What the Covid-19 pandemic may change in our Food Safety approaches?

The unprecedented health crisis of Covid-19 is disrupting our daily life and organization of many companies all along the food chain. After the absolute urgency of the barrier measures implementation, containment and the need to continue essential activities (health care, food supply...) it is useful to put into perspective the medium and long term consequences of this crisis for the actors of the food supply chain. 

The unprecedented health crisis of Covid-19 is disrupting our daily life and organization of many companies all along the food chain. After the absolute urgency of the barrier measures implementation, containment and the need to continue essential activities (health care, food supply...) it is useful to put into perspective the medium and long term consequences of this crisis for the actors of the food supply chain.

What if, beyond the current health, human and economic drama, this crisis could become an opportunity?

The pyramid presented in figure 1 is a synoptic vision of interdependent concepts for which the Covid-19 crisis will durably modify the perception and priorities in relation to the various food safety approaches. In this paper we will cover the fundamental needs of a sufficient supply of quality food up to the deployment of the "Food Safety Culture" within organizations.


Figure 1: Representation the different levels of the Food Security and Food Safety Pyramid

Food Security [1]

Consumer behavior, supply difficulties linked to logistics and blocked exports, and very tight supplies of certain personal protective equipment illustrate the influence of this crisis on the risks of supply disruption. A reflection on the reliability of supplies of raw materials, consumables or strategic services such as transport, for example, will therefore have to be carried out, taking into account the location and resilience of suppliers to face a "second wave" or a new health crisis. The pandemia can also lead to an increased number of population suffering from hunger based on the scale established by FAO/WHO ( figure 2).


Figure 2: How are hunger and food insecurity related – FAO/WHO 2019


Health Care [2]

The health of individuals (employees and their families, subcontractors, suppliers, customers...) is clearly the highest priority and this dimension will be tomorrow more than ever placed at the top of the agenda. The scientific uncertainties concerning SARS-CoV-2 , the coronavirus at the origin of Covid-19 , persist: Beyond person-to-person transmission via the respiratory tract and contact with the mucous membranes of the face, is the digestive tract excretion a proven risk? (figure3) For how long can asymptomatic infected persons contaminate? How long will immunity acquired after the disease or a future vaccine protect? Which treatment will be the most effective and safe against this disease? All these questions require the most precise answers possible in order to adopt effective pandemic control measures compatible with a "normal" life.


Figure 3: COVID-19 syndrome 


Prerequisite programs [3, 4]

Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) have been known for many years as essential measures to ensure wholesome and safe food products for consumers. The implementation of barrier measures (minimum distances, adapted gestures, hand washing, wearing of masks...) are imperative in the current crisis situation.  These measures can be implemented in the Food Safety Plan as a prerequisite program. These new constraints are also an opportunity to scrupulously implement the best hygiene practices in all sectors of the food industry. We can imagine that handshakes and hugs will be permanently banned from food manufacturing and processing areas serving both food safety and staff health. Pedagogy and force of example are more than ever on the agenda to (re)learn the proper use of masks or hand washing (figure 4).


Figure 4: Handwashing with soap and water versus use of hydro-alcoholic gel – WHO Oct 2016


Survival on surfaces from a few hours to several days depending on conditions makes effective cleaning and disinfection essential to prevent the spread of the virus. The cleaning and disinfection protocols used in the food industry sector therefore deserve to be validated with regard to their effectiveness on SARS-CoV-2, although this enveloped virus is not particularly resistant and most of the detergents and disinfectants used are probably sufficiently effective. It will be necessary to ensure that the protocols are scrupulously applied and to reinforce the frequency in critical areas of the company with "T.A.C.T."  (figure 5). Again, increasing the frequency and effectiveness of cleaning of changing rooms and toilets and integrating it into the current SSOPs  of the company serves both the control of Covid-19 and food safety.


Figure 5: SINNER cycle


HACCP [5, 6]

WHO has made it clear that for the time being no transmission via food or its packaging has been demonstrated and is considered as negligible for transmission of Covid-19, which remains primarily transmitted from person to person via expired droplets. Should Covid 19 be excluded from the list of hazards to be taken into account in a HACCP approach?  
Considering the uncertainties and concerns of consumers (can the surface of this packaging be contaminated by the Covid-19 virus, can my RTE food be contaminated by the virus?) it seems useful at this stage to include the SARS-CoV-2 in the list of viruses to be taken into account in the risk assessment by professionals in the food industry in addition to Norovirus and Hepatitis A/E virus, even if the risks and control measures may differ. It is also important to consider the effectiveness of treatment and conservation methods for the destruction of SARS-CoV-2. Sanitizing processes have yet to be validated on this virus but the coronavirus family seems fragile enough that conventional heat treatments are sufficient to destroy them. However, it has been shown that freezing allows the coronavirus to survive for several months. This crisis is perhaps the opportunity to integrate more widely viruses in the risk assessment of companies. More generally, the HACCP method is adapted to assess the risks and define the measures of control and validation / surveillance / verification associated with the SARS-CoV-2 hazard. In this regard, SARS-CoV-2 testing on surface can be used as a risk assessment tool or to validate corrective measures in complement to traditional hygiene indicators testing.



Food Sustainability [7,8]

In a period where sustainable development is considered essential by consumers, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis is interacting with the following three components (figure 6), namely:

Economic component: The economic crisis which emerges in parallel with the health crisis will deeply disturb the local, regional and international balances and this for many years. Consumption patterns are likely to be permanently modified and the company will have to adapt to these changes.

Societal component: The activities of the food chain feeding the population and the solidarity actions towards the health sector have already been acknowledged during the acute phase of this crisis. In the long term, taking into account public health issues, including nutrition, will be more than ever a priority for the food supply chains. Local and national supply must also be considered from this perspective.

Ecological component: The national debate already exists on this subject. At a time when bulk distribution and the complete elimination of packaging is being questioned in regards to barrier measures, the Covid-19 hazard must be integrated into the current approaches. Recycling and compostability are more than ever on the top of agenda. Local sourcing has emerged for many consumers or companies as a strong point in this period of acute crisis and is an opportunity to limit the environmental impact. More than ever, consumer expectations in this area will be high. Sustainable development approaches will therefore have to be revalidated by integrating the short, medium and long-term consequences of the Covid-19 crisis.

It is now recognized that emerging diseases often originate from countries with threatened ecosystems. 

Also, in recent years, with the multiplication of trade and travel, an increase in the prevalence of emerging or resurgent diseases has been noted in both humans and animals. The majority of these diseases affect several species, and about 75% are zoonotic, emerging at the confluence of wildlife, domestic animals and/or humans. Several questions arise: What are the main risks of introduction: travelers? animals? food? vectors? What is the role of ongoing climate change?

As mentioned above, fruit bats harbor coronaviruses, but many other viruses such as rabies, Ebola, and Nipah in significant quantities without getting sick. It is not the fact that the Chinese eat bats that is the most dangerous, but that they are in very close contact with them and other animal species. In a market that closely mixes humans and live animals, the virus circulates at a high density, and people can become infected through the respiratory tract. As a reminder, the coronavirus is an RNA virus, which means that it mutates a lot.


Figure 6: Sustainability in Food Systems (SFS) – FAO 2018


Food Fraud [9]

Food fraud in its various forms often feeds on crises, supply tensions and imbalances between supply and demand. Moreover, the acute crisis of the Covid-19 induces derogations to ensure the continuity of supplies which must be temporary, traced and framed. In this context, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of fraud. This should therefore lead to the updating of vulnerability studies in connection with the acute and medium-term crisis that is looming. The fraud risk must therefore be integrated into the evaluation of the resilience of suppliers in relation to this and future crises.
Food Defense [10,11]
The steps taken to protect companies against deliberate malicious acts grouped under the name of food defense will also interact with the Covid-19 crisis: Indeed, the exceptional measures implemented by many companies in an emergency to deal with the current crisis, such as the exceptional company shutdown, require many site security measures that can be integrated into the existing procedures. The uncertainty linked to sites reopening and effective de-containment measures related to personal information in relationship with the risk of occurrence of cases of Covid-19 for people entering the sites (country/area visited, health status, etc.) may also be related to measures to control people with access to the production site and sensitive areas for reasons other than the health control of Covid-19. Personal data protection and individual liberties are important topics in this context.



Food Safety Culture [12,13]


Highlighted in recent years as the ultimate approach enabling companies to deploy a coherent approach at different levels of the company by sharing the vision and beliefs related to food safety, this "Food Safety Culture" approach is more relevant than ever. Indeed, companies hit by the Covid-19 crisis (fear for everyone's health, tomorrow’s uncertainty, questions about the relevance of the measures taken...) must absolutely align all their human forces to understand the control measures and succeed in applying them for food safety  as well as for the protection of the health of employees, suppliers, co-manufacturers and customers facing the Covid-19 risk. Companies that have this safety culture will more easily survive the current crisis and the months to come.


Figure 8: Dimensions of Food Safety Culture – New Zealand position paper Jan. 2018

Towards a Global Safety Culture

Therefore our vision is that a global safety culture needs to be developed within the companies combining the historical priorities of food safety with the safety of people. Indeed, the application of the tools already developed for food safety and the development of solutions for Covid-19 useful to reinforce food safety, quality and sustainability are real opportunities for companies to overcome the challenges of the current crisis but also to perpetuate the company through reinforced trust with employees, suppliers, co-manufacturers, competent authorities and customers (figure 9). 
Perhaps in a few months or years' time we will be able to say that this terrible crisis has also been an opportunity.


Figure 9: Representation of opportunities at the different levels of the Food Security and Food Safety Pyramid

NB: The present subject has been published in the French journal “Droit Alimentaire” Revue LAMY in May 2020. The English version has been adapted to English-speaking world with some additional illustrations enhancing the purposes. [14

[1] FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2019. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Safeguarding against economic slowdowns and downturns. Rome, FAO.
[2] WHO - Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) - Situation Report – 89, April 14, 2020 https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200418-sitrep-89-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=3643dd38_2
[3] ISO 22000:2018 – Food Safety Management Systems – Requirements for any organization in the food chain – Prerequisite Programs (PRP).
[4] FAO & WHO - COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses - interim guidance, 7 April 2020
[5] WHO & FAO , CODEX ALIMENTARIUS – Food hygiene, basic texts, 4th edition, Rome 2009.
[6] Mérieux NutriSciences – Blue Paper – European food safety trends, key issues and perspectives – 2020 Edition, March 2020
[7] FAO Sustainable food systems - concept and framework. Rome 2018
[8] Les maladies infectieuses exotiques - Risques d'importation et d'implantation en Europe, Jeanne Brugère-Picoux, Michel Rey, Rapports de l’Académie National de la Médicine, Lavoisier, Décembre 2010.
[9] Mérieux NutriSciences – Food Safety HUD monitor food frauds and alerts – extraction Août/Nov.19 versus Décembre 19 - Mars 20
[10] Tackling food fraud through food safety management systems – GFSI position paper May 2018.
[11] BSI (British Standards Institute) - PAS 96:2017 – Guide to protecting and defending food and drink from deliberate attack
[12] A Culture of Food Safety – a position paper from the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) V1.0 - 4/11/18

[13] FOOD SAFETY CULTURE in New Zealand food business research with food business decision makers and staff. NEW ZEALAND FOOD SAFETY Information paper No: 2018/01
[14] Ce que la pandémie de Covid-19 peut changer dans nos approches de la sécurité sanitaire des aliments, Christophe Dufour, Ulrich Singer, dossier qualité, Lamy Dehove droit alimentaire n° 403,19-25, mai 2020.




DVM Christophe Dufour

Scientific Director - Mérieux NutriSciences France










DVM Ulrich Singer

Senior Consultant - Mérieux NutriSciences France