A question posed on a recent webinar was “Should I change my cleaning procedures in the current COVID-19 crisis?”. I thought that I would check out the current views in the UK and summarise them.

The advice from the UK Government is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Why soap? Because the virus which causes the pandemic, (or COVID-19) is rendered inactive by soap. I have a couple of blogs on handwashing, one of which is here.  The other point to note at this point is that we are talking about a virus, not a bacteria. Bacteria reproduce and respire. Viruses do not. They require a host cell to multiply. Viruses may need a different approach to disinfect surfaces.

Can I catch COVID 19 from food?

There is  no evidence at the moment that food is a vector for COVID-19. The virus is a respiratory virus. WHO (World Health Organization) advises that “transmission of the COVID-19 virus can occur by direct contact with infected people and indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used on the infected person”

What do we already do?

In the food industry, we are already well versed in hygiene. We clean and disinfect our equipment, hands, contact surfaces and non contact surfaces at varying frequencies throughout the production process. The food and drink that is produced is checked against our CCPs following our HACCP study. The prerequisites usually include cleaning . Often clothes and shoes are captive to the premises or area. There has been an element to the news reports from hospital workers that reminded me that they often wear their uniforms home! There is a lesson to be learned by the NHS there, I believe.

Should I be changing my cleaning procedures?

Back to the original question. Should you be changing your cleaning procedures? My advice is to carry out a risk assessment of the current situation, to decide if you need to change anything. Remember that bacteria and viruses are different.

The question is what you are trying to achieve from the cleaning. If it is to reduce the probability of a virus being cross contaminated on hand contact surfaces, which is a change from your previous objective of reducing bacterial loading, then read on. If you are not changing your objectives, keep your current procedures and protocols, if they are working. If not, then review these. The virucidal aspect may not be relevant. you may need a bactericidal disinfectant or sanitiser. 

First check

The first check that I would recommend is to speak to your cleaning chemical supplier. This is to check whether the sanitiser or disinfectant that you are using is virucidal (kills viruses) and conforms to BS EN 14476. This standard does not specifically include COVID 19, it does include similar viruses (Encapsulated viruses). You can also confirm that it is being used correctly. Contact times and dilution rates are particularly important.

Second check

The next check is to review where is being cleaned. One idea is to assemble a team from all parts of your business, similar to a HACCP team and create a heat map of hand touch points. This can be easily done by giving each member of a team stickers and asking them to place them where they touch during a normal shift. The more stickerss on an area, the “hotter” it is.  Clearly this needs to be done on a plan of the area. This is because an additional risk of paper as a foreign body or physical hazard is created. Confirm that the “hotter” areas are being disinfected regularly. Don’t forget to record the review and update any cleaning records. Include all areas, not just food areas. Admin areas are important too. Areas such as signing in areas and communal kitchens are potential cross contamination areas.

Third check

Another check that can be done is to check how everyone is feeling and to exclude any unnecessary visitors at this time. The UK Government is insisting that we self isolate, but the food and drink industry is an essential industry to keep everyone fed.  Excluding visitors, during the crisis, and checking in with your teams about their health will reduce the risk of transmission. Introduce procedures to create safe delivery and collections. The virus stays active on surfaces for longer than you may imagine, more information here

Once the additional checks have been made and documented, you will be in a better position to decide if you need to change your cleaning procedures.

For more details, there is a guide from SOFHT here.

Cleaning during and after the current pandemic needs to be managed differently. Where before you were concerned with anti bacterial products, now anti viral products and social distancing has to be considered. Anti viral products in the UK should conform to BS EN 14476 . 

Cleaning with detergents will disrupt the virus. So a good detergent and adequate cleaning procedures will work to destroy the envelope around the virus and render it inactive. When using disinfectants, ensure that contact times are adhered to. The correct dilution is also important.

When using hand sanitiser and washing hands, ensure that the whole hand and fingers are in contact with the soap or sanitiser. The fingertips are often missed.

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