While bakeries that primarily supplied foodservice companies have been hard hit by the pandemic, some have been able to transition to retail. The Aladdin Baking Company was in that position because of its specialty product: Middle Eastern flatbread. Consumers who had previously frequented ethnic restaurants for the specialty breads were now seeking it at retail. “In six weeks, our business doubled because people are buying it up and freezing it,” said Director of Quality and Food Safety Paul Storsin. By late April, sales still had not slowed.
With more than 30 years in the industry, Storsin provides consulting services for other bakeries on his off-time, so he also is seeing the other side. A bakery in San Diego had to lay off almost all its workers because it had been selling fresh artisan product to restaurants, labeled as “fresh everyday.” Another bakery in Youngstown, Ohio, was able to shift to frozen items for grocery stores, but it had also provided a lot of product for fairs, so is seeing the impact of those cancellations. Additionally, those bakeries which were big in the School Lunchbox Programs, university cafeterias, etc., have had to cut salaries, and lay off sales and office employees.
With Aladdin Bakery workers continuing to come to the plant daily and produce food, the company implemented a written Coronavirus (COVID-19) Protection Policy, which states, “In order to protect our employees, our customers and our business from COVID-19, Aladdin Baking is putting in place the following measures, effective immediately.” Included are some standard requirements such as: Employees are to wash hands at least once per hour; after using the restroom, eating, drinking and smoking; at the beginning of each shift. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, dry with paper towel, dispose of it immediately. But the policy also instructs employees to cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it immediately; not touch their face; not shake hands, hug, or put arm(s) around others; maintain distance from others as much as possible.
Failure to abide by the requirements is not without consequence as the policy states, “Employees who fail to observe the above hygiene practices will receive one verbal warning. After a second offense, the employees will be sent home for the day. Any supervisor or manager observing a violation is required to send the employee home.”
Additionally, any employee ill with fever or respiratory illness is to stay home and not return until free of fever over 100.4 degrees for at least 24 hours without using a fever reducer or cold medicine. Supervisors are to send home any employees who arrive ill or become ill during the day. The bakery implemented measures to isolate employees by groups, so that if an employee catches the virus, the exposure to others will be limited.
The policy also provides instruction for drivers and visitors. Drivers are to carry a full box of disposable gloves and hand sanitizer in their trucks at all times; sanitize hands before and after each delivery stop, and use disposable gloves where hands may come in contact with product. Drivers also are to maintain at least six feet from anyone with whom they interact during their route, and be checked out upon return to the bakery and not proceed any further in than necessary.
Visitors are prohibited, and employees may not allow friends or family to enter the building. Any violation of this policy also will result in the employee being sent home for the day or suspended the following day.
“Every bakery I work with is following that process,” he said, including the violation consequences. “You have to be strict like that because it’s so important, so vital; you have to respect each other.”
In addition to the personnel practices of the policy, enhanced cleaning and disinfection has been implemented, with a focus on frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, faucets, and keypads. These are to be disinfected and sanitized every four hours, according its Virus Disinfecting Procedures.
In the beginning, Storsin said, the bakery was not able to get sanitizers, so it started steam cleaning. It had previously used dry-heat cleaning on food-contact surfaces, so it expanded that to Zones 2 and 3 for high-touch areas. Once able to get sanitizers from companies it had never before used, Aladdin reduced the dilution rate, so it was using them with the least water dilution labeled rather than the highest as it had. “It’s more a people issue” than ever before, Storsin said.
Sanitation also is increased for incoming deliveries. “We spray sanitizers in every truck before and after delivery,” he said. “We also inspect the cab.”
Storsin sees reassessment as a key to ensuring sanitation. “Go back and look at your sanitation program and reassess it to see what you missed,” he said. “Look at what could have been missed and what could have been touched.”