Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Josh Harris, president and founder, Distinctive Foods, about sanitation protocols that the company has enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liz Parker: How did Distinctive Foods deal with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Josh Harris: The Distinctive Foods senior management team understood the seriousness of the COVID-19 health emergency from the beginning and dealt with it the only way they knew how: head on. The company’s in-depth knowledge of pathogen controls from more than 30 years of operating USDA/SQF facilities (e.g., Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Bacillus cereus, etc.) provided the roadmap for how to address the new viral pandemic. We implemented advanced mitigation efforts that included prevention, education and clear communications so every employee was on the same page.
In addition to increased sanitation, testing and hygiene measures, we started daily and weekly internal meetings with each employee group to provide updates on company policies and implement industry-leading best practices based on the latest CDC guidelines along with USDA, SQF and HACCP best practices. If an employee did contract COVID-19, we immediately investigated and initiated contract tracing; informed fellow co-workers about the positive case; and increased monitoring of potentially exposed employees. We also began the effective daily use of temperature and oximeter testing of blood oxygen levels in employees to warn of possible illness.
Over the past year, the company had minimal COVID-positive employees. However, like many other food and beverage manufacturers, our company had to maneuver through supply chain and ingredient shortages due to increased demand or factory/production shutdowns caused by the surge of COVID cases throughout the country.
All in all, the mitigation efforts put into place early on were highly impactful and did what they were meant to do. We maintained safe working conditions during extraordinary times which in turn allowed production lines to continue to roll, keeping customers happy and store shelves stocked when demand was at unprecedented highs.
LP: How did Distinctive Foods step up its sanitation and hygiene measures throughout its facilities?
JH: Beginning in February 2020, we stepped up measures to sanitize operations and maintain hygienic conditions throughout our two production facilities totaling 40,000 square feet.
Our company activated several mitigation measures throughout the year. We immediately installed 35 new hand sanitizer stations and implemented 3X/day alcohol sanitizing of contact surfaces. In March 2020, we required all employees to wear face masks and take temperatures and implemented silver ion fogging as needed. Starting in April 2020, we rolled out weekly quaternary ammonia fogging of both facilities and staggered employee start/finish times, lunches, and breaks. Finally in July 2020, we began the use of ultraviolet-C Spectrum air purification in common areas. We already used comprehensive personal protective equipment (PPE) prior to the pandemic, so employees were already accustomed with that protocol.
LP: How did Distinctive Foods rollout its vaccination plan for its employees?
JH: Growing out of our essential critical infrastructure status and role as a U.S. Army Supplier, with a Defense Logistics Agency rating of DO-C1, we initiated ongoing communications with Dr. James Moy of Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center to ensure timely COVID-19 testing, and more recently the vaccination of all manufacturing and office employees per CDC guidelines for 1-B workers. We also helped employees with vaccine scheduling and offered free transportation to alleviate any potential logistical issues. Currently 100 percent of all company employees are fully vaccinated.
LP: Any new products coming up for 2021?
JH: Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have continued our industry-leading product development efforts. With the recent rollouts of Pabst Blue Ribbon Mini Pretzel Beer Brats, Matcha Cheesecake, new flavors of Dessert-on-a Stick and 6 Seed Organic Flatbread Crackers, we continue to lead the industry with on-trend, innovative new products to fill the needs of consumers looking for variety and convenience in their culinary consumption.