Like all the other industries, the Food Industry is dealing with its distinct issues caused by the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. When various governments shut the restaurants and bars, it caused a ripple effect on agriculture and other allied fields. In fact, in June 2020, the United Nations warned that the world was facing the worst food crisis in half a century. This is majorly due to the recession caused by the pandemic. The current scenario is also going to affect the plant layouts both during and post-COVID period.
Major incidents recorded
The virus even disrupted the food supply chain and this led to a big influence on the supply of raw materials and agricultural produce.
Some other major happenings include:
- When the pandemic hit The United States, meat plants quickly became hotbeds for the deadly virus.
- More than about 50,000 workers in meatpacking, food processing, and farmworkers have tested COVID Positive.
- Tyson Foods announced on 30th July that it will test its workers for coronavirus weekly.
- In Michigan, all the meat, poultry, and egg facilities require coronavirus testing for all the workers.
The Need to Alter Plant Layouts amidst COVID-19
In the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic, the Food processors need to alter the plant layouts as well as the design of food plants. It isn’t wrong to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping the food plant of the future. Food processors and builders are trying to slow the spread of COVID and preparing for the future contagions, thus rethinking many aspects of the plant designs. Majorly, this includes a variety of precautions to be taken such as distancing, face coverings.
According to Darrin McCormies, senior Vice President and Director of Industrial Services for Epstein Design and construction, “There is no normal. There is no playbook. There is no standard. We are figuring this out and trying to be smart about adding value and protecting employees.”
There are some of the top changes that food processors are already working on :
- Rethink the trend of shared communal spaces. The processors are also planning to add space in new build projects for locker rooms, bathrooms, hygiene junctions, and entrances. This is an attempt to help workers maintain social distance and also preventing shift crews from mingling.
- In the existing plan, bump out walls. This will gain space to spread out restroom stalls. Or add more cloth changing stalls in locker rooms. Or repurpose your space to add more hygiene junctions.
- Subtly reposition the workstations to ensure that the workers are not directly adjacent. Space should be enough to put up protective barriers if desired.
- Reconfigure entrance areas or add a vestibule. This allows room for walk-in temperature scanners. Ensure separate entrance and exit lanes.
- There should be an isolation area as well, in case someone isn’t feeling well.
- Ensure study airflow in areas where there is high employee concentration.
New steps which are taken By Food Processors
At meat plants, lines are built with tight workstations to maintain speed to meet demands, physical distancing is difficult. Therefore, the companies reacted quickly to put up plastic sheets in a bid to separate workers and also changed procedures to encourage distancing.
Initially, all types of food plants rapidly added temperature scanners, plastic barriers, and various signs and dividers. This was done to keep workers moving in one direction. Presently, companies are considering whether to embark on more extensive renovation projects. However, the renovation projects may take up months for construction.
Plants have spent a lot on controlling access in recent years and setting up a separate entrance is an expensive affair. Alternatively, they are focusing on redesigning entrances or on preventing congestions and providing enough space for health screenings.
Some processors are considering setting up smaller, more dispersed processing facilities. This would separate high-risk areas of greater employee concentration from lower-risk areas. This includes reworked processing spaces or even separate buildings. Adding to all this is enhanced cleaning procedures and breakdown capabilities.
On top of the normal hygiene separation, now we are all talking about how people interact. This will be a different level of separation, segregation, and cleanability. As a result of the pandemic, people will be more aware of their personal space and hygiene for a long time. Improvement in the quality of products will be a reflection of the same.
New Innovations coming up for altering the Plant Layouts
Black and Veatch, a consulting company specializing in infrastructure development, has offered modular stations. Over here, a tractor-trailer can drop off outside a plant to provide space for people to complete the screening process. It’ll allow a platform for the worker to meet virtually with the company’s telehealth caregiver.
Black and Veatech also offer a digital tool in partnership with a technology company, among other technological and designing solutions that are being offered. The digital tool is called – Covoperate, and tracks personnel status. It is like a mobile-based boarding pass. It displays a green thumbs up if a person has met screening requirements to enter the site. The tool also helps to ensure if a person is wearing assigned PPE.
Covoperate only works when the person is within the range of the plant. First aid rooms are being repurposed so that they do not spread the infection. Hence, the newly-designed facilities are not just focussing on COVID but also on the next contagion.
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