NI Food Industry Letter

Executive Director of NIFDA, Michael Bell, has written to all NIFDA member companies to reassure staff that the industry is working hard to implement additional safety measures as a priority.

Dear NIFDA Member Employees

Feeding Our Nation

The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Industry has always been a crucial part of our society, and never has that been more true than it is today.  I would like to acknowledge your hard work, dedication and continued efforts to help feed our nation at this critical time.

Food and Drink has been recognised as essential work. Key workers, including the health service, the food and drink sector, delivery services and others, must continue to work to serve the community at large.

We recognise the huge effort by you all as key workers during these extraordinary and uncertain times, and we are fully committed to bringing in additional measures to support and protect you at work.  We are working hard to respond and adapt to the new situation we find ourselves in.  Over the past few weeks employers have introduced additional safety measures across factories, and continue to do more, establishing new behaviours and norms amongst employees.

Why does your work matter?

Northern Ireland’s Food and Drink sector feeds 10 million people annually – feeding not only local people but also consumers across the UK and Ireland. We are very proud of our food and drink – it is world class, and we have many awards to prove it. Demand for food from supermarkets has been increasing, as you will have seen and experienced.  We have been stepping up to the plate to meet that demand.  Some of the increased demand is unfortunately due to stockpiling, and some is due to people having to eat at home all the time rather than in restaurants and cafes. All of us working within the entire food chain – farmers, processors and retailers – are doing our best to keep safe and keep going.

What about safety?

You work in a controlled hygienic environment which is routinely sanitised. Personal protective equipment and strict handwashing and hygiene protocols are already in place, and unnecessary staff are restricted from food production areas. This is a good starting point, but as you will have seen, more can be and is being done.

What’s the advice from Public Health England/Public Health Agency NI?

The latest guidance from Public Health England states:

Food safety practices in food processing plants should continue to be delivered to the highest hygiene standards including the use of some personal protective equipment and frequent hand washing.

All employers are expected to follow social distancing guidance, including food businesses, as far as is reasonably possible. Where the production environment makes it difficult to do so, employers should consider what measures may be put in place to protect employees. Once staff have left the food processing areas and removed protective clothing, social distancing and further hand washing guidance should be adhered to.

Please be assured we are working closely with all relevant agencies to ensure that additional employee safety measures are agreed and implemented on an evolving basis.

Can Covid-19 be transmitted through food?

There is currently no evidence that food is a source of Covid-19 and it is very unlikely it can be transmitted through the consumption of food, according to PHE (Public Health England) and the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).  As a matter of good hygiene practice anyone handling food should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

How have working practices changed?

Working practices and facilities vary across sites.  Examples of measures that have been introduced include:

  • Social distancing
  • Reducing numbers of workers on site at any one time
  • Re-designing processes and adjusting work flows
  • Temporary barriers

I have a concern – what should I do?

If you have a concern about your working practices, you should taIk to your supervisor. Your employer’s priority is to keep you safe. We are doing all we can, however there is much conflicting advice and unhelpful commentary on social media. The industry is working extremely hard to implement the latest advice and guidance.  We welcome your feedback and suggestions. In fact, many employers are actively seeking constructive ideas from their employees – you can help us to make workplaces better with your active participation and commitment to adopting new practices and behaviours.

Working together

Across the local food and drink sector we are committed to continuing to ‘Feed the Nation’ at this time. We have all seen the pictures of empty shelves and how distressing it has been for everyone, particularly the elderly.

Just like the NHS, workers in the food sector should be valued and supported as much as possible.  Whilst the NHS is working to keep us healthy, we are working to keep food on everyone’s table.

We are very grateful for your hard work and dedication. We cannot feed the nation without you, and we will do everything possible to support you during this exceptionally busy time.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Bell

Executive Director, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA)