- The Consumer Brands Association is asking the federal government to ensure all critical infrastructure employees, including food and beverage manufacturing employees, have access to personal protective equipment (PPE). The trade group said some state agencies are confiscating the equipment meant for industrial use, according to a statement from the association.
- In addition, the Consumer Brands Association is urging the government to create a department focused on accelerating PPE supply chains and to secure priority access to coronavirus testing for essential workers.
- “Unless steps are taken to prioritize acquisition and dissemination of personal protective and sanitizing equipment across all critical infrastructure, these essential manufacturers and other industries could see operations come to a halt due to workforce shortages, employee transmission and operational shutdowns,” the association wrote in a letter to President Trump on April 8.
At the same time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges essential workers to wear face masks and take temperatures onsite, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been accused of confiscating PPE and rerouting it to health care workers. According to the Consumer Brands Association, until recently known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, this alleged commandeering is directly affecting food and beverage industry manufacturers.
Work by food and beverage companies has been deemed essential by the U.S. government. To protect workers, CPG companies from Tyson Foods to Dr. Praeger's are increasing distancing among workers as much as possible, ramping up cleaning schedules and providing workers with PPE.
Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, previously told Food Dive that federal food and beverage manufacturing regulations already mandate some of the policies to prevent virus transmission, such as hand washing and sanitizing equipment.
The use of personal protective equipment (hand protection, protective clothing, and respiratory protection) in food and beverage manufacturing is also standard. Stringent food regulations and the risk of bacteria exposure make the use of personal protection necessary to maintain a clean and safe working environment.
A 2018 report by Technavio predicted a 4% compound annual growth rate from 2017-2021 for PPE in the food processing industry due to “frequent contact with knives and other dangerous cutting machinery, bacteria, and high temperatures in the industry.”
In today’s environment, the need for protection is even more pronounced as workers seek to protect themselves from the spread of coronavirus. The Consumer Brands Association said some of its members have seen their orders increase by 700% as Americans spend more time stockpiling food and drinks at home to slow the spread of the virus.
To fulfill this demand, companies like Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé and Cargill are increasing hours and adding shifts. If workers are unable to access the PPE they need, the risk of infection will likely rise. It also could further disrupt the food and beverage supply chain and leave consumers wanting products that normally are readily available on shelves.
As the outbreak continues, facilities are shutting down after workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Smithfield Foods closed its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facility after hundreds of employees had the virus. Tyson Foods and JBS recently announced they were temporarily closing meat processing facilities. Cargill shuttered a Pennsylvania plant this month after an unspecified number of employees were diagnosed, and Maple Leaf suspended operations at an Ontario plant.
The Consumer Brands Association is hoping to prevent further disintegration of the supply chain and protect its member companies by asking the government to exercise its authority to provide essential workers with the safety measures required to continue operations. As an industry, food and beverage represents roughly a fifth of the nation's economic activity, according to a report from Feeding the Economy.
As more companies in the food space experience coronavirus outbreaks, there could be more of an impetus for the government to recognize the Consumer Brands Association's request — especially if a lack of workers available to produce food creates a nationwide shortage for some items.