Knowledge of food safety stategies as weapon against corona
Viruses and bacteria both have the quality to grow exponentially and both can affect our safety. Viruses attack our society and bacteria can harm our food safety. Nowadays, food safety is well guaranteed. We are rarely sick of our food. Do we have lessons learned from food safety we can use to combat the corona pandemic?
Each virus – like corona – is able to grow exponentially through a host. Exponential growth is a difficult phenomenon, but it means that the virus doubles per unit of time. An example of exponential growth is the story of the creator of chess. The king wanted to thank him and asked him to make a wish. Give me one grain on the first pitch of the plate, two for the second field, four for the third and thus always double the number for each subsequent field. It seemed like a modest wish to the king, but that was a big mistake.
Bacterial growth and food safety
The phenomenon of exponential growth does also occur in our food sector in the form of bacterial growth. In optimal conditions, a pathogenic bacterium can double every 20 minutes. After an hour you have 8 and, in several hours, it can result in a heavy food poisoning. Luckily most food producers work with high hygienic standards and de number of outbreaks is extremely limited. But what is the secret of the food producer? How does he prevent bacteria from multiplying?
Food technologists and microbiologists use a “system” consisting of four important elements:
- HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) can be seen as an important basis for food safety including the risk analyses of the product and the technical process. HACCP is also required by law.
- Preservative strategies such as drying, pasteurizing and sterilizing and sometimes using preservatives.
- Hygienic design of machines, production lines and factories, including the associated cleaning protocols.
- Monitoring and analysis of raw materials and supervision of the hygiene of the environment: quality of raw materials, assessment of suppliers, etc.
Blueprint to attack corona
Now we have explained the theory of food safety, we can look at the similarities with the coronavirus. At the height of the outbreak, the famous R0 value was about 2.3. This means every infected person can infect 2.3 other people every few days. In other words, 80% of the Dutch population would have been infected within two months. More than 100,000 people might have died and an ICU capacity of 25,000 beds or more would have been necessary. Fortunately, our government took measures to avoid this disaster in the Netherlands. But could this have been different if we had based more on the systems of the food world?
Our thesis is that the blueprint of the (future) approach to the corona pandemic lies in the approach we are used to applying in the food world. Let’s have a look at the comparison between food production and this corona pandemic by means of the above four points.
- For corona, there is no system of risk analysis for business or Here lies a great opportunity! Mapping the weaknesses in hospitals, care homes, slaughterhouses, etc. will give us many new insights.
- The ‘preservative methods’ used in the corona approach are a) alcohol and b) soap and water. But there are many more ways to destroy viruses. We too could use the technological knowledge around conservation from the food sector.
- Hospitals, care homes and large halls are not designed with the thought to prevent a virus infection. With the knowledge of a Hygienic Design expert, we can look at the design and equipment of buildings, the processes that take place and the ventilation of fresh air in and through the building. The food sector has this knowledge!
- We do not analyze each individual food product, nor will we test every Dutch person for corona every day. But we do have to test to monitor the situation. Is it possible to apply the methodologies from food technologies to the Dutch health care (GGD) that tests and analyses our society? A food producer tests its ingredients for impurities and thoroughly assesses its suppliers before buying raw materials. What could this mean for testing in the health care? Do we want to show the yellow GGD passport to each other?
Are you thinking with us?
We don’t have ready-made answers for our thesis above. But we believe it is possible to apply the knowledge of the food systems to attack the coronavirus. And maybe also prevent new pandemics.
The food sector has learned its lessons in the last 50 years and rigged an entire system around HACCP and Hygienic Design. Our society has now experienced a great wake-up call: a pandemic is not a theoretical concept, but it is a real risk. TOP bv would like to contribute with our know-how in the field of hygiene challenges in other sectors! Are you joining us?
Wouter de Heij
CEO of TOP BV