With the spread of COVID-19, every aspect of life has been affected and many re-examined. One of the most concerning things beyond the virus itself was the ability to adapt systems of production. Shortages of supplies, particularly hand sanitizers, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies such as Lysol, lasted for a long time. The food industry was among the top crucial industries that we relied on to maintain high standards in this difficult time.
How was food quality affected?
An increased number of recalls was a major concern for food production companies. The effects of COVID-19 meant employees were getting sick, training procedures had to be significantly changed, and businesses had even made decisions to improve their equipment to keep up with the rapidly-evolving industry. As the effects of the pandemic continued to spread, consumers and GFSI auditors grew cautious about how these businesses would balance the increased production demand with high quality standards.
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and its auditors saw a significant decrease in the number of audits being performed across the different certification programs. However, overall food production quality didn’t fall as far as they expected. This was partially due to the overwhelming need to keep clients in a declining economy, pay employees, and adapt to the still-evolving food industry. Instead of in-person audits, companies received assistance with virtual adaptations of GFSI certification programs, extensive paperwork, and virtual inspections when it was possible. These changes to the auditing process helped companies hold themselves to a similar standard as they did prior to the pandemic.
As the Pandemic Subsides
Changes in food production and the GFSI auditing process will likely remain in effect throughout the rest of 2021. An article by Dave Fusaro of FoodProcessing.com breaks down the approximate auditing process as we move into the second half of 2021. Due to physical restrictions set by the CDC and governments across the world, in-person audits halted in 2020. With vaccinations going around, those restrictions being reduced or lifted, and reports that indicate a decrease in overall COVID-19 cases, in-person audits should resume consistently soon. However, food production systems have settled into modifications as a result of the pandemic. This will affect the number, as well as the structure, of GFSI audits.
The election of President Joe Biden in early 2021 may also bring an unforeseen element to the food production industry. As his administration rolls out changes, the USDA and FDA are pushing a new initiative to focus on preventing issues with food safety versus their previous reactive strategy. GFSI audits are a large part of this and, even with nothing set in stone as of now, companies should still expect an increase in inspections.
From a consumer’s perspective, the food industry is still transitioning. From pre-COVID processes to partially-virtual adaptations and finding a balance of both as we look to the future, the main focus should still be maintaining the quality of food products. Previous shortages in sanitizing and essential items have made consumers wary of future shortages or a decrease in quality while we attempt to resume a pre-pandemic lifestyle. The USDA, FDA, production companies, and the GFSI, alongside its auditors, are working tirelessly to ensure that our global transition into a COVID-free society doesn’t decrease food production quality.