As I contemplated a topic for this issue’s Viewpoint column, my mind continually reverted to COVID-19 and just as quickly cast it off as “No, we’re all tired of talking about — and living — COVID.”
But that is exactly the issue, we are living COVID-19. It is a part of everything we do: at home — as we discuss what we would like to do on the weekend, and what we actually can do; in public — as masks have become either mandated or second nature for most of the US; and in business — especially in business for the food industry which has had to consider employee impacts of and protections against the pandemic since before it was even declared a pandemic.
Take a look at the articles in this issue. None of them started out as having a significant focus on COVID-19; but discussing pest-related hygiene (page 18), sanitation (page 34), and trends (page 22) — particularly trends! — with expert sources inevitably circled around to discussions of pandemic precautions, impacts, and/or expectations. And it’s virtually impossible to talk about a “New Era” (page 6) of anything without including the delays caused by and lessons learned from the pandemic.
But it is exactly that — the lessons learned — by which we hope the industry will come out the other side with improved practices, processes, and even technologies. As Jennifer McEntire discusses in Produce Production (page 48), there are silver linings to COVID-19, one of which is the rise of virtual education. Not only have there been an abundance of webinars in the last few months, but nearly all industry conferences have gone virtual, with the Food Safety Summit (originally scheduled for May, then moved to October, now announced as virtual) being the latest to join the online revolution. We’re finding that we can have face-to-face interactions, “coffee talks,” and even facility audits while we remain a great deal more than “six feet apart.”
Although this technology doesn’t, of course, provide for plant-floor production of food, it is having a bearing on it — whether that be the ability of your management team to increase their education from their desks; the application of remote auditing through the use of emerging video technologies; or even the gathering of your international management group on a “Zoom” call.
And just as tired as most of us are of talking COVID, so, too, are many tired of hearing the words “new normal.” But whether you call it that or a “New Era” or simply post-COVID, 2020 has changed the world, the nation, and the food industry itself. And it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to eradicate the word COVID from our discussions anytime in the near, or near-distant, future. But we can take the positives, the silver linings, from the clouds and make 2020 mean something good for our future.