Food Safety: How to Maintain the Highest Quality Standards and Controls in Times of the Coronavirus Pandemic- The Italian Perspective
Since the #covid outbreak in Europe, many people feel anxious about routine aspects of every day life, such as grocery shopping. We wonder whether we might pick up covid from food or food packaging. However what’s truly relevant is how do employers and employees, working in the sector, deal with the difficulties and dangers of the situation to secure continued provision of high quality food products to citizens. To put a spotlight on current daily life of SMEs of the food sector, we have invited Giorgio Ferraris, CEO of Fine Foods & Pharmaceuticals NTM SpA based in Italy, to talk firsthand on how his company maintains production and manufacturing of food products in one of the epicenters of the pandemic and manages to face the daily challenges.
This Webinar was also joined by Dr Paul Rübig President of SME Connect, Member of the European Parliament 1996 – 2018; Herbert Dorfmann MEP, Member of the AGRI Committee and Domagoj Ivan Milosevic MP, Member of Croatian Parliament, President of SME Global & Vice-President of SME Europe.
Dr Paul Rübig ret MEP, opened the debate talking about this unique opportunity of discussing both, the issues, but also the measures of the food industry maintaining the food production under highest quality standards. “We need to make it as difficult as possible for the virus to spread”. He stated, that the coronavirus is barely active at temperatures around 4°C. “Maybe this is the best way to distribute food goods”. Moreover, he sees the outbreak of the virus as a challenge but also as an opportunity for health departments for innovations, for example, new tests. Now it´s time to look at “taxation policy and research to find a solution to the question of how can make it possible that SMEs survive”. It is up to us to discuss what is needed to secure the food production and distribution of goods. “What can we do to fight the crisis”, he said before passing over to Giorgio Ferraris.
The CEO of Fine Foods & Pharmaceuticals as well as the Adviser of the SME Connect Working Group on Health and Nutrition, Giorgio Ferraris, explained the extreme situation in Bergamo, Italy and said “We will come out of the crisis stronger than before. We raised the bar to ensure the protection of employees and food production”. He talked about the measures of his company in the fight against corona. With different initiatives, Fine Foods & Pharmaceutical rose the awareness of the employees, as the members of the managing board see education as an important step for tackling the virus. He explained that already in early February a Safety Team got together to discuss which measures will protect the people and the manufacturing. Eventually “it turned out to be the same measures as the government published later, including staying at home when showing first symptoms of sickness and sanitizing of possible contagious surfaces”. His company also changed the working shifts to ensure that the dressing rooms are not a source of spread for the virus, he stated. “If you come to work it is saver than if you get your groceries. We worked hard to explain that Fine Foods & Pharmaceutical is a safe place to be”. Furthermore, he stated that in this extraordinary time, it is more important than ever to also offer emotional support for employees who lost family members due to COVID-19.
In his speech, he explained why Bergamo, Lombardy, may belong to the most affected regions by corona. “The family is very close and well connected to other citizens. However, the generation is also older compared to other regions or countries”. The people are very disciplined and follow the measures given from the government, he stated: “People take the coronavirus seriously which has an impact on the development of new cases”. “We as a company are a one step ahead of the game, we react faster, and the government is typically behind for at least 10 days. A city cannot cope as fast with a crisis of this magnitude”, he said and explained as a company it is easier “you can do something, and you can prepare a company for this crisis”. Nevertheless, he continued“we need to go back to normal business as soon as possible with the highest quality standards and protection measures because if this is going on for too long, the consequences will be hit more than the virus”.
Herbert Dorfmann MEP, Member of the AGRI Committee, also talked about the Italian situation and highlighted “we need European solidarity”. At the moment, there is a general “political debate if the European Union is sufficiently active, The EU took measures to intervene but maybe we could do more”, he stated. Nevertheless, he said that the food supply fundamentally works in this special situation. “Yes there are empty supermarket shelves but that is not due to the food supply chain, it’s rather because people feel the necessity of stocking up. Food is available and safe, and the industry is not responsible for spreading the virus,” he further explained. The EU has the highest quality standards and ensures that the food industry and agriculture are working well “which is more important in times of the crisis than many other sectors”. He further compared the current situation with the migration crisis in 2015. “three weeks ago, when the crisis has started and the government closed the borders, has some similarities to the migration crisis”. Closing the borders will not stop the virus. Closing the borders resulted in around 50km truck queues, “the Commission solved this problem in 2-3 days”. He said that we need green lines on borders which is not for tourism but for seasonal workers and trucks to ensure the distribution of food goods. “We need to think about new agriculture policy investments. Unfortunately, this crisis hits the same regions which suffered during the financial crisis and migration crisis as well”. He mentioned further, that during both crises, Italy did not feel any European solidarity. “Political leadership is missing. This is the perfect moment for extremist to come to power. This could be the end for the European Union”, he emphasized. “We need solidarity, otherwise we can not recover from this situation anymore,” he further said. “The fact is, the most affected countries, Spain or Italy, will have huge costs both, during the crisis and after it, they need economic-financial support”. It is the time now, to look at how to come back to normal life. “We need to secure Italy´s economy through funds and the European guarantee.”
Domagoj Ivan Milosevic MP, Member of Croatian Parliament also emphasized: “The coronavirus is not the normal flu”. He stated, that we are confronted the first time with such a dangerous virus since the second world war. “We need to raise the awareness of all people to sanitizes surfaces, balancing social distance and to reduce social contact to a bare minimum”. He agreed also to MEP Dorfmann´s argument and said “The future of the European Union will be more discussed than before. The crisis will show weaknesses but also opportunities”. However, he continued “We need to show solidarity, yes, but we should not only blame the European Union when it is the glue keeping everything together”. Consumer protection and high-quality standards are on top-level due to European policies. Moreover, he sees the news and the internet as a potential hazard in this challenging time, due to fake news and disadvantages shared without responsibility. “We all have to learn to work together to see the end of the crisis before summer.” He closed the webinar with the words “We need new reforms for the Union to survive. If we work closely together, we will overcome the crisis and will be prepared for the future”