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ASCM Insights

Upgrading Supply Chain Cleaning, Sanitation and Safety Standards


When COVID-19 became widespread, many people reacted by trying to control their exposure to the virus. This included social distancing, working from home and doubling down on cleaning. Lysol, Clorox wipes and paper towels soon disappeared from store shelves as consumers focused on preventing viral spread. Supply chains, too — from factories to retail stores — have realized that their previous cleaning techniques might not be effective enough to kill a virus and prevent its spread among employees or customers. In fact, many organizations have completely altered the ways in which they keep their buildings, products and employees clean and safe.

In an interview for the podcast “Six Feet Apart with Alex Wagner,” Jeff Dunn, CEO of produce and juice purveyor and distributer Bolthouse Farms, describes how his company drastically changed in the weeks since COVID-19 started to spread. It has broken its plant’s 1,700 employees into teams of 10, with their own breakrooms and paths to the plant, and they “sanitize behind them,” he said. “We re-engineered how the plant runs in order to put social distance between the people.”

He points out that other companies have seen issues when neglecting to use social distancing in their warehouses — specifically, people working very closely to each other or failing to sanitize equipment between users have gotten sick. Dunn noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and CDC didn’t have protocols in place for infections in plants when the pandemic began, so the “really smart people” at his company had to come up with their own plan. (The CDC has since released general guidelines.) Because Bolthouse Farms is a food business, it formulated its response to the pandemic by following food safety crisis management principles, which outline responses to pathogens or food safety incidents.

By breaking the employees into small groups, dividing sections of plant with plastic sheeting, taking each person’s temperature before they enter the plant, regularly cleaning equipment and offering frequent testing for the virus, Bolthouse Farms is not only limiting employee exposure, but also limiting the fallout if one person does become ill: They won’t have exposed the entire plant to the virus, which would likely mean closure and quarantine; only their small group will have to stay home as a precaution. Dunn likens the process to “guerilla warfare.”

Other food companies are following similar tactics. Trader Joe’s has outlined the precautions it is taking in its stores to safeguard the health and safety of crew members and customers. Steps include staff wellness checks, which screen for potential exposure to COVID-19 and for symptoms consistent with a COVID-19 infection; prioritizing good hygiene practices, including access to frequent hand washing; increasing routine cleanings, paying close attention to high touch areas such as restrooms, register areas, grocery carts and hand baskets; introducing practices to support social distancing; installing plexiglass barriers at the registers; and providing personal protective equipment for crew members.

A study published in The Lancet details how long the coronavirus can survive on various surfaces, with results ranging from three hours to seven days. Still, scientists can’t be sure whether a sick person who packs a product into a plastic bag or shipping box may infect the next person who touches the goods.

AmerisourceBergen, a pharmaceutical wholesale distributor, hosted a virtual town hall to inform stakeholders about the practices being taken to keep employees safe, as well as its continuity plan. Panelist Erin Horvath, president of distribution services, referenced a conversation with the CDC, in which she discussed cleaning guidelines in distribution centers, such as using electrostatic sprayers and other sanitizing procedures at a greater frequency, social distancing, adjusting break and shift schedules, and barring outside vendors from entering the building. The company also has instituted stricter guidelines with courier drivers, asking them to immediately notify AmeriSourceBergen if they or someone they have been in contact with has COVID-19. Driver vehicles, too, are regularly cleaned and sanitized.

According to Patty Olinger, executive director of the Global BioRisk Advisory Council, in a story reported by NPR, the average person isn’t necessarily qualified to properly sanitize surfaces infected with an airborne virus. The global cleaning industry association, ISSA, launched a new online course and certification in April to “train participants how to prepare for, respond to and recover from biohazards in the workplace, including control measures for infectious-disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.” Olinger hopes it will become industry standard and something organizations will be able to use to demonstrate their commitment to cleaning, sanitation and safety far into the future.

About the Author

Holly Poulos Freelance Writer

Holly Poulos is a freelance writer. She may be contacted at

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