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Identify SARS-CoV-2 in Food Facilities

Hot SourceFood Safety and Quality TrendsMay 28, 2020

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has burst to prominence since its discovery in 2019 and subsequent COVID-19 pandemic it has caused. These challenging times require innovative solutions – SGS can help.

Easily transmitted person-to-person (via droplets and aerosols), SARS-CoV-2 may also be spread by indirect contact with objects and materials (fomites). The virus is persistent and highly contagious, and spread by people who are asymptomatic, making its identification in food premises, facilities and plants, paramount. While no actual food product has been identified as a source contamination, everything around a food product may pose a risk of transmission.

Many organizations have already strengthened their safety practices, but how can the effectiveness of these measures, and potential contamination issues be monitored?

SARS-CoV-2 testing

SGS has developed a range of new SARS-CoV-2 testing solutions that support the whole supply chain, including commercial, manufacturing and public facilities. This covers the food sector from production to distribution and point of sale. We also recently updated our Hygiene Monitored (HM) Program to incorporate measures to cover World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 guidelines and SARS-CoV-2 detection testing.

Identifying the presence of the virus on environmental surfaces will help organizations to understand and monitor the effectiveness of their mitigation measures as well as the sanitation and disinfection strategies implemented to protect workers, production, products and consumers.

While the virus is very new, scientific studies have already identified how long it can survive on inanimate surfaces and maintain its stability, see Table 1.

The survival time of SARS-CoV-2 is impacted by viral strains, the material it is on, the temperature, humidity and viral load. Therefore, frequent touching of contaminated surfaces in work areas, production facilities, distribution and selling points is a potential route for SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The persistence time on environmental surfaces varies from minutes to up to several weeks, depending on environmental conditions. As an example, SARS-CoV-2 can be sustained in air in closed unventilated rooms for at least 30 minutes without losing infectivity. Additionally, viruses in respiratory or fecal specimens can maintain infectivity for days at room temperature (RT).

Significant environmental contamination by COVID-19 patients suggests that the environment is a potential medium for virus transmission and surfaces in working environments should be tested for SARS-CoV-2.

Table 1: Survival time of SARS-CoV-2 on inanimate surfaces

SurfaceViral LoadTemperatureTime 
Paper 104RT< 5 min
106RT24 h
Silicon rubber10321°C5 d
Metal 105RT5 d
Stainless steel  103RT, 21°C≥ 5 d
Cupper1054°C≥ 28 d
10530°C8-24 h
Aluminum5x10321°C2-8 h
PTFE10321°C5 d
PVC10321°C5 d
Glass105RT4 d
Ceramic tiles10321°C5 d
Wood105RT4 d
Plastic10522-25°C5 d - 2 wk

Source: Ren S-Y, et al. World Journal of Clinical Cases, 8(8):1391-1399, 2020.

Restrictions Close Doors

Around the world, food businesses such as restaurants have been forced to close their doors while others, like food producers continue working but under strict rules. Several, including in the US and Europe for example, were forced to close down as a result of their workers being infected in high numbers. As we see the gradual reduction of restrictions, the production sector (food producers, distributors, etc.) is looking for ways to provide products safely to customers, while the service sector is looking for ways to continue their activities by minimizing the risk of infection. However, there remains much concern about the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection from workplaces, from products bought by consumers or from different lines in the supply chain. An approach to protect both employees and customers/consumers should be at the forefront here.

The main questions to understand and manage these risks are:

  • Is the working environment sufficiently safe to continue the operation?
    • Companies are using different sanitation techniques with different intervals in many areas. But it is critically important to know whether these measures are efficient, or not. Determining weak points or locations and taking early actions against the potential presence of SARS-CoV-2 will help to reduce risk. Established food safety monitoring should continue as normal, but additional measures need to be considered.
  • How to protect employees against the risk of spreading a potential infection?
    • As SARS-CoV-2 is very contagious and easily spread, especially in confined spaces, just one infected person can cause many others to catch the virus, their work environment and products to become contaminated and as a final result, serious damage to the operation and business. Monitoring the work environment for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 allows businesses to understand the specific risk and implement focused measures to protect employees and to maintain operations.
  • How to prevent products from being contaminated and consumers/customers from coming into contact with the virus?
    • Probably the worst news for a company right now would be that SARS-CoV-2 is detected in their facilities/on their products, or those who use them, or who are in that company (e.g. being in the same place such as a restaurant). Since protection of consumer health is the most basic and important issue, it is vitally important to identify potential contaminations in the entire supply chain and take remedial actions accordingly.

Verifying Effectiveness

Most businesses have taken measures related to cleaning and hygiene policies, amongst others. Although this is essential, it can be difficult to verify effectiveness in such a way as to limit a facility’s liability in case an employee or customer becomes infected. SGS offers new SARS-CoV-2 testing solutions which are primarily intended to support the whole supply chain from production facilities to distribution and point-of-sale.

Detection of the SARS-CoV-2 in environmental surfaces helps organizations to understand and monitor the prevention measures taken as well as the effectiveness of their sanitation/disinfection strategies against the virus. It allows early response and a proactive approach to potential risks to workers, products and customers. This will protect the business as a complementary step to standard safety measures. Our SARS-CoV-2 test solutions give business owners a way to show responsibility and prove it to customers and staff giving confidence during this transition period.

Validation and Reliability

Our SARS-CoV-2 test solutions rely on validated and reliable techniques compliant with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and cover swabbing, transport and testing. Swab sticks are delivered to customers with detailed information about how sampling should be performed and then the conditions under which samples must be transported to the lab. Back in our lab, rigorous safety conditions advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO assure the safety of our collaborators and the quality of the test. For testing, viral RNA is extracted and detected by Reverse Transcription Real-Time PCR with high sensitivity.

Additionally, technical support, including but not limited to, sampling points, high-touch surfaces/areas and sampling intervals, will be given at all times to ensure reliable results.

Complementary Services

Alongside our SARS-CoV-2 testing solutions, we have also developed and updated auditing services to help businesses to recover, renew and reinforce their existing safety programs. These include:

  • COVID-19 Control Program
  • Hygiene Monitored Program
  • HACCP for Catering
  • Factory Restart Program

Learn about our portfolio of solutions specifically developed to help the food industry recover, renew and reinforce their businesses, globally.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Murat Cokakli
Global Food Technical Support Team
t: +90 324 328 15 96

About SGS

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 94,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,600 offices and laboratories around the world.

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