KANSAS CITY — Keeping work areas properly sanitized has never been more important.

Food production facilities are already well versed in battling food-borne pathogens and keeping the US food supply safe. But COVID-19 has led to an increased emphasis on employee health and safety that for many companies is unprecedented, said Bob Forner, marketing director of Cockeysville, Md.-based Sterilex.  

“We’ve seen food manufacturers implementing intensified disinfection protocols in employee common areas and workstations, as well as reinforcing personal hygiene GMPs,” Forner said.   

To help its clients respond to COVID-19 and further protect their own employees, Sterilex developed additional disinfection protocols for control of viruses in production and non-production areas as a layer of protection to help safeguard essential workers and to reduce cross contamination between treated surfaces. 

All of those protocols, Forner said, use Sterilex products that are featured on EPA List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2. 

One of its key tools in the fight is the Sterilex Ultra Disinfectant Cleaner Solution 1 and Sterilex Ultra Activator Solution mixture, a two-part disinfectant system that can be used on a wide variety of hard, non-porous surfaces including most employee work stations. 

“We recommend preparing a stock solution mixture in a smaller container, like a 5-gallon bucket,” Forner said. “The stock solution can then be used in a variety of ways, including with portable spray units or mopping.” 

Taking the lead

New Orleans-based consultancy Commercial Food Sanitation LLC (CFS) got a jump start on preparing it and its clients for the coronavirus, said Nathan Mirdamadi, senior food safety specialist.

“We had a firsthand understanding of dealing with the pandemic while it was still in China with our China-based food safety specialists,” he said. “And as a result, we were well prepared to support our multinational clients based on some of those learnings.”

CFS will soon be releasing a Preventative Plan Continuum for COVID-19, which will allow companies to self-assess their preparations, Mirdamadi said.

The company also produced a short video that has become very popular, he added. Its goal is to remind viewers of the recommended COVID hygiene practices. 

The video was created without words to make it usable for a global audience, and it’s designed to be shown on a loop on monitors in a cafeteria, breakroom or other space accessible to a company’s employees.

CFS has also begun reviewing several different technologies to potentially support ongoing remote support, but it’s also reviewing the recommendations of the WHO and CDC to see how they can be applied to the food industry.

While CFS has postponed all trainings conducted at its campuses, the company has developed a series of trainings and hosted Q&A sessions with its partners to help cover some of that gap, Mirdamadi said.  

“Because of our unique position in the industry, we have been able to serve as a conduit for communicating best practices and strategies that are being used,” he said. “We’ve been working and supporting the major trade associations which have been working in conjunction and providing feedback to the FDA and CDC.” 

Best practices

To help its clients adapt to the “new normal,” Sterilex has been working hard to advise companies on effective sanitation and disinfection applications so they can get back into production and stay open.

Sterilex has been advising clients to increase frequency of total facility sanitation treatments in Zone 3 and expand their use of EPA registered virucidal disinfectants in Zone 4 (offices, break rooms, locker rooms, etc.). Additionally, Forner said, companies should be disinfecting high-touch objects such as doors, drawer pulls, desks, light switches, hard hats, shared tools, breakroom surfaces, restroom fixtures and other objects.  

As a disinfectant manufacturer, Sterilex has been considered an essential business. The company’s R&D team has continued its critical work in the lab to develop the next generation of virucidal disinfectants. 

And just as Sterilex advises its clients to disinfect high-touch objects and areas, the company created its own “return to work” framework and protocols to implement in its office to prepare for a full return to the office. 

Changes at Sterilex in recent years have made the company’s COVID experience easier to endure, Forner said.

“We’ve invested in teleworking capabilities — about half of our staff worked from home prior to the pandemic, making the transition to a mass work-from-home model go smoothly.” 

Remote assessments  

Like most companies, CFS is still learning what the “new normal” will be, Mirdamadi said.  Whatever it is, CFS will continue to play a vital role in helping food manufacturers and their supply chain partners provide safe and clean working environments.

“Long term, the expertise we bring will always be necessary, and we will adapt as we learn ourselves based on the risk and recommendations from our public health experts,” he said. “In the interim, we have also started conducting some of our food safety assessments remotely, which will prepare facilities better for the actual visit.” 

CFS is protecting its own team and minimizing the risk of the spread of the virus by halting all travel with the exception of travel that is required to support and protect the food supply, Mirdamadi said.

“Unless our onsite support is needed to prevent the potential closure of a facility, we are supporting our clients and the industries remotely.” 

 Other changes at Sterilex in recent years have included more than doubling the company’s office space and building out four new product labs.

Looking ahead, Forner said Sterilex will continue to adopt new technologies and make other changes to find ways to help its customers once the pandemic has passed.

“We are an innovative company that prioritizes investing in R&D and new technologies and is committed to developing forward thinking solutions for microbial control,” he said. “In a post-COVID world, we hope to expand our product portfolio to continue to drive advancements in food safety, provide thought leadership and develop value added solutions to safeguard our food supply, protect human and animal health and optimize operational efficiencies.” 

In the midst of the pandemic, Sterilex has had the opportunity to get closer to its customers, as it helps implement new programs.

“We hope to build on these relationships and work together to boost consumer confidence as we continue to keep both our food workers and food supply safe,” Forner said. “We are committed to helping our clients protect their valued employees.

By keeping essential workers safe, Forner said, Sterilex is doing everything it can to keep a critical industry operational and food on shelves and tables across the U.S. 

A solution for every need

Kieler, Wis.-based food safety and contract sanitation provider PSSI offers multiple hard surface sanitizers and disinfectants to fit different needs, said Ulyana Stebelska, the company’s R&D director.

 “Several of our products are suitable for use against SARS-CoV-2 as per EPA List N,” she said. “Our PCI PURE Hard Surface, silver citrate-based sanitizer and disinfectant is our go-to product for customers who want to disinfect common areas in their facilities. PCI PURE Hard Surface has a broad range of microbial kill and 24-hour residual.” 

Sanitation remains the core of PSSI’s business model, added Jake Watts, the company’s vice president of food safety. While PSSI was largely prepared to confront the challenges of COVID-19, the company has quickly adapted and modified practices to ensure all facilities are clean and safe, and employees remain protected.

PSSI’s Chemical Innovations division has launched a new product, Microbarrier Elite, that Watts calls the only food contact surface approved antimicrobial that can be left on food processing machinery/equipment after its application during the sanitation process, which provides a long-lasting protective coating between regular cleaning and sanitation.  

The product gives substrates an added level of protection against damaging microbes such as bacteria, mold, and mildew that can cause stains, odors, and product deterioration, Watts added. It’s applied to surfaces via fogging or spraying applications, is non-corrosive to most surfaces and has a low-risk safety profile for handling. 

PSSI Chemical Innovations provides a full range of employee hygiene products which include sanitizing hand soaps, hand sanitizers, and dispensing equipment. The division has developed two new hand sanitizing products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: PSSI E-San and PSSI I-San, both formulated per WHO guidance, Watts said.  

To ensure the highest standards of sanitation, PSSI is continuing to implement its 8 Step Sanitation Process, as well as implementing additional safety protocols in communal areas, Stebelska said. “

“Each step we take is pre-planned through our guided decision tree and communicated with all teams for a streamlined process based on the customer’s needs,” she said.