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Director’s Message: COVID-19

Practical Considerations to Navigate Uncertainty

The Food Protection and Defense Institute is actively collaborating with our federal partners as they respond to COVID-19. We are advocating for our food industry partners to help raise awareness of potential primary, secondary, and tertiary effects across the food system. 
 
To provide further support for our food system partners, we reached out to Ready, Inc. to develop practical considerations that may help you navigate the uncertainty in a rapidly evolving crisis. 
 
Actions to Take

  • Organize a response team and activities around three questions:
    • How do we handle specific issues and situations happening RIGHT NOW?
    • Who needs information from us, how often and in what format?
    • What might happen next and how do we prepare?
  • Regarding “what might happen,” assign at least two people to focus on likely scenarios;  What would we do if … 
    • an employee tests positive? 
    • a community outbreak reduces our workforce? 
    • there is a delay in receiving critical supplies (e.g. ingredients, sanitizing agents, equipment maintenance parts, who are or could be your alternative suppliers for inputs that may become problematic)? 
  • Hold short once or twice daily meetings to coordinate across all responders where the Response Leader ensures:
    • Everyone delivers concise reports
    • Questions are answered and alternative opinions heard 
    • Agreed-upon actions and timelines are understood by all
  • Maintain situational awareness
    • Focus on local and regional developments with actionable information
    • Share in a consistent format with all team members
    • Monitor your supply chain to anticipate potential disruptions
 
Communication Considerations for Your Audience 
  • Be consistent
    • Provide information at set times and(or) a central location to ease anxiety and reduced volume of questions the response team must handle
  • Interface with local authorities
  • Keep your message simple
    • What is happening
    • What do I (the employee, customer, other stakeholder) need to do
    • What is the company doing
    • When/how will I receive information
    • What information do I need to report and share
 
Our Common Goal
 
Many parts of our food production system perform critical and essential functions during a longer term crisis. These facilities cannot simply cease functioning without significant implications. For example,
  • disruption of fluid milk processing would have profound impacts on both public anxiety and amplifying supply chain disruptions from farm to fork. 
  • if or when curfews are put in place, companies may need to coordinate with authorities so that employees who perform essential shift work can still access the facility. 

Many of our local, regional, and state authorities may not fully understand, or had the need to learn, how the food system functions. You may need to advocate for the essential nature of your processing and manufacturing locations. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency issued the Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response that may help. Even with the list, local interpretation may be different and you may need to work with local authorities. Please be realistic in your requests and always keep workforce and consumer health and safety a priority.
 
Let’s keep the critical nature of food supply in sharp focus. As we have recently seen in many areas of the country, disruption in food availability, or even the perceived disruption in food availability, creates significant anxiety and unpredictable behavior in consumers.  Let’s all embrace social distancing and work collaboratively to keep our food workers from farm to fork safe and healthy during this time. It will be essential to the continuity of our food supply. Stay healthy.
 

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