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When hygiene becomes essential

May 18, 2020 at 12:15 PM , Der AUDITOR
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SEEHEIM-JUGENHEIM. As the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus are being eased throughout Europe caterers and food retailers need to adjust to new hygiene standars. Mundus Agri employee Carsten Megow has worked in food hygiene for twenty-five years. He shares his experiences and opinions.

Mundus Agri: The discussion on easing measures is in full swing. Oppononents and advocates engage in lively discussions and arguments. What is in store for us?
Megow: First and foremost there will be many more discussions. Many are longing for their accustomed life. Meeting family and friends, going out or experiencing art and culture, relaxing on holiday and leaving everyday life behind. All this has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Alhough leisure activtiies have been impacted, it is also important to nate the many have also been thrown off track professionally. Lucky people can work from home, but many jobs are at risk of or on the verge of being lost. In my opinion, the crucial question is how far we can go and what has to wait. This is an equation with many unknowns.

Mundus Agri: Most of our readers are professionally involved with food, in manufacturing, wholesale and retail. What needs to be considered here?
Megow: The decisive task is to prevent the further spread of the virus. This goal has absolute priority. In dealing with food it is always essential to observe hygiene rules. A basic understanding is therefore given. Living with the coronavirus, however, presents us with the previously unknown task that everyone is responsible for everyone else.

Mundus Agri: This sounds rather general...
Yes, it is. I firmly believe that correct action is governed by three factors. You should know how to act and, I think this is essential, why you are acting.

Mundus Agri: These are two factors. What is the third?
 Objective conditions have to be provided. Work flows, work equipment and processes etc. need to be designed in such a manner that people can do what they are supposed to do. To put it bluntly, if you are to wear a mask, it must be there, just like the hand disinfectant and the dispenser. Personnel planning needs to be adapted etc.

Mundus Agri: What do employers have to do in practical terms?
Employers must lay the foundations to protect their employees and customers from infection. Contact needs to be avoided, wherever possible. Working from home and video conferences should repplace physical meetings. We live in a digitised world, we should draw on wherever possible.

Mundus Agri: But bakers, storekeepers or salesmen can't really work from home...
Of course not. In these cases there are many things to consider. Bakery shops are a good example since we have everything here, including customer contact, limited space and money changes hands. Often there is a large number of part-time employees or staff with limited working hours working in the store, many people come together. Every contact is a possible transmission path and it is essential to minimise risks. This starts with personnel planning. Fixed teams that work together should not change if possible. This prevents the entire staff from having to quarantine in case of an infection. The way in which the point of sale is organised needs to be reconsidered. Is it necessary that employees constantly have to cross or can processes be organised differently? I.e. in how far it is necessary to send customers from the bread display to the cake counter and then to the checkout. Sufficient disposable or reusable masks should be available as well as clear rules on handling, change and preparation and disposal. Wearing masks that cover the mouth and nose contribute considerably to cutting virus transmissions.

Mundus Agri: Which masks are the right ones?
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) issued exemptions and changed recommendations in March in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the corresponding statements, the term "mask" is defined relatively broadly. In principle, it can be stated that even self-made masks are better than no mask. Although redisposable masks were intitially not intended, they also play a role here. The objective is to use existing materials as well as possible. Viruses don't just fly around in the air, they are always contained in tiny water droplets that we release when we breathe or speak, cough or sneeze. A large proportion of these aerosols are retained by masks.

Mundus Agri: I keep seeing masks with valves. They simply let the exhaled air out...
Exactly, these masks are not suited to protect others as the air is only filtered when inhaled. In addition to the self-sewn masks, 3-layer disposable face masks and standard N95 respirators are the best choice at present. The main thing is that they are used correctly, meaning that they cover the mouth and nose, are close fitting and that the rubbers bands are used to take off the masks. Homemade masks should be washed regularly, preferably after each use and at least at 70°C or boiled in water.

Mundus Agri: What else do employees have to consider?
 Anyone who is ill or feels ill should stay at home. The rules of hygiene need to be observed when sneezing and coughing. Distances need to be kept where possible. Handshakes and kisses are a no go. Many transparent screens have been installed in supermarkets and petrol stations as "spit protection" - a good protection against aerosols, just like full face protections. Since the virus is not only transmitted in droplets but also is a lubricating infection, we have to pay attention to hand and surface hygiene.

Mundus Agri: Can you be more precise?
Of course, everything has be clear and understandable. Lubricating infections are transmitted in two ways, from person to person or from person to object to person. The possible transmission paths need to be identified and measures adopted and incldued in cleaning instructions.

Coronaviruses are enveloped, the organism is protected from environmental influences with a layer of fat. If you crack this layer you have won. Hands and surfaces should be cleaned regularly with surfactant-containing cleaners or soaps, whenever it is necessary, i.e. whenever contact with the virus may have been had. Hands need to be soaped for 30 seconds and then rinsed. Hand disinfectants, if used correctly, improve results by 100 to even a 1,000 times. The correct application is also decisive here. For hygienic hand disinfection, an exposure time of 30 seconds is usually prescribed. During this time, sufficient disinfectant liquid must be rubbed into the hand. All limited virucidal products are suitable. The RKI provides good information here. In addition to the brands listed in the disinfectant lists of the RKI and VAH (for Germany), products manufactured according to the modified WHO Recommendation I and II are now also recommended. Surfaces such as door handles, toilet flushes or shopping trolleys and pin-code entry panels etc. should also be decontaminated after every use by other parties.

Mundus Agri: And gloves?
Disposable gloves are useful in many cases. But people wearing gloves have to behave as if they war not wearing them. If someone grabs their nose with gloves and thinks that everything is fine, something has gone wrong.

Mundus Agri: Is sufficient equipment available?
We observe that many things are getting better. New supply chains are being created where things are tight. But bottlenecks still exist, as, for instance concerning raw materials such as propanol and ethanol for hand disinfectants and in dispenser systems. We probably are on the right track regarding masks, but we have not yet reached our goal. We must not forget that the coronavirus is a global and not a local problem. Over 7 billion people are suddenly requiring the same products. This leads to bottlenecks, when production is down and transport routes are blocked. It's good if you can fall back on a network in such situations. At Mundus Agri, we have set a lot in motion in order to tie up loose ends in a new way.

Mundus Agri: Who helps you to cope with all these challenges?
There is much assistance that can be relied on. When I turn my computer on, the latest information and recommendations from the authorities are often right at the top. Guilds and associations provide help for tradespeople. Suppliers of cleaning products are also very well trained people. Mundus Agri also receives many enquiries from the industry. As a global news community trading platform, we have been able to procure respirators, disinfectants and dispensers when they were out of stock throughout Europe. We have supplemented our service here with consulting.

Mundus Agri: There are so many different opinions and information, do the measures taken do justice to the phased way out of the lockdown?
I think everyone has an opinion on this - me too, of course. It is often said that we are still at the beginning of the pandemic - I totally agree with this. Now we are trying out which steps can be taken and how far we can dare to go. I am convinced that the protection of life and health is top priority. I see the greatest danger in the fact that people respond in a dulled manner, feel safe and become careless. In assessing the situation and the measures taken, I have to trust the specialists. Although I'm a fan of thinkin ouitside the box, the fire brigade should have the say when there's a fire.


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