PhD. Cristóbal Chaidez Quiroz is a worldwide and nationwide renowned researcher. He has over 16 years of professional expertise in the environmental and food microbiology area. He is a Pharmaceutical Chemist Biologist graduated from Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa with a Master’s and a PhD in Environmental and Food Microbiology from University of Arizona.
He is currently a Head Researcher at Laboratorio Nacional para la Investigación en Inocuidad Alimentaria (National Laboratory for Food Safety Research, or LANIIA) and a member of Academia Mexicana de Ciencias (Mexican Science Academy); he is also a part of Sistema Nacional de Investigadores Nivel III (Level III National Researchers System), a member of some food safety committees in the State of Sinaloa and a member of the Advisory Board of Asociación Nacional para la Inocuidad y Calidad Alimentaria en México (National Association for Food Safety and Food Quality in Mexico, or ANICA). He runs researches with institutions such as CONACYT, INAPI, Fundación Produce Sinaloa, among others, as well as international institutions and private companies. He is an expert FAO consultant on subjects related to Food Safety, Environmental and Food Microbiology. He has scientific publications as an author in domestic and foreign journals. He is a high-end HR trainer for Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degrees.
Perhaps the farming industry was one of the least affected sectors, as it was classified as essential by Mexican authorities and by fruit and vegetable importing countries; so farmers did not stop their activities. However, the delay in the vaccination program against COVID-19 may create an obstacle in the farming sector, particularly in the exports area, since countries with advanced vaccination programs may impose obstacles to the entry of trucks into their countries.
Even when the culture of food safety has been implemented for many years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of infection is high in any closed space where people are gathered. That is why the farming industry must observe basic hygiene measures, such as frequent hand wash, the use of face masks and social distancing (at least 1.5 meters, or 4.92 ft), as well as a preventive program of PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 detection in asymptomatic people. This can prevent outbreaks within companies and potential closures.
Management systems and/or quality and food safety certifications are tools that allow performing the continuous improvement of processes. Therefore, implementing them is necessary to reduce losses and potential disease outbreaks caused by consuming polluted food.
Remote audits should gradually be replaced by on-site audits. This could be achieved with a preventive PCR testing program for SARS-CoV-2 detection. The way to do it could be by implementing biosafety protocols, which would generally be: Both the personnel of the farming company and the auditor must get tested and observe basic hygiene measures (continuous hand wash, the use of face mask and social distancing) in order to perform the on-site audit process.
An Internal Business Monitoring Program (PIME) is recommended to establish as a strategy to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the work environment of companies, and to reduce the risks of getting COVID-19.
Such program includes three action lines:
Without a doubt, the culture of hygiene and health in food will become increasingly important in those who produce food, but also in those who consume it. Perhaps, we could say that it will be one of the few positive things we will be getting out of this global catastrophe. We must understand that COVID-19 is not the only contagious disease; as there are countless respiratory and diarrheal diseases that can be mitigated as simply and performing a constant hand wash, distancing and the use of face masks.
The challenges for the farming industry are daunting, the potential outbreaks, the appearance of COVID-19 genetic variations, as well as the delay in the application of vaccines; all of these facts will generate pressure in the markets.
There are several opportunities. The farming sector has a high standard of the food safety culture which must be scaled into establishing biosafety programs that serve not only the product (fruit or vegetable) but also the workforce, which must have the basic hygiene measures, in order to avoid outbreaks within companies.
I would like to invite everybody to continue taking care of ourselves, since the pandemic continues and, even when vaccines are being applied, these will not eliminate SARS-CoV-2, as they will only mitigate the severity of the infection (reduction of hospitalizations and deaths). Therefore, the virus will continue in circulation among us by causing infections. As we continue to preserve hygiene measures, the biosafety programs and monitoring of asymptomatic patients, the risk will be gradually reduced.