Every virus – like corona – has the potential to grow exponentially. Exponential growth is a difficult to “feel” phenomenon. But just imagine folding an infinite piece of paper in half once, then twice, and then again, In that case you already have 8 layers of paper, this is not that thick yet. But if we continue, we go from 8 to 16 (4x), to 32 (5x), to 64 (6x). If we count through, then we are 10 times folding at 1024 sheets, this is no longer foldable, I think. With corona we saw that the famous R0 value was about 2.3, this means that every person infects 2.3 people every few days. There you will also see exponential curves. If you let such a virus spread on society as a whole without taking measures, 80% would have been infected within two months and perhaps more than 100,000 people would have died and an IC capacity of 25,000 beds or more would be needed. Fortunately, this disaster was passed on well in the Netherlands by the measures taken.
Our sector is also very well aware of the phenomenon of exponential growth. Just like virus pandemics in a society, bacteria can also grow exponentially. If conditions are correct, a pathogenic bacterium can double every 20 minutes. After an hour you will have 8 and in the following hours it can get quite out of hand: a potential source of food infection is therefore quickly created. Fortunately, the average food producer has his affairs in order and the number of outbreaks is very small.
How does a food producer do that? How do we guarantee that the risks are extremely low in modern chains? Simply we food technologists and microbiologists have invented a “system” that consists of four main elements:
- HACCP including the risk analyzes of the product and technical process forms the basis (and is therefore also required by law).
- Preservation strategies including drying, pasteurizing and sterilizing and sometimes preservatives.
- Hygienic Design of machines, production lines and factories, including associated cleaning protocols.
- Monitoring and analysis of raw materials and environment for “cleanliness”. Do you know raw materials, assess your suppliers on their ability and know where everything comes from.
My thesis is that the blueprint of the (future) approach to this corona pandemic can be compared with the approach we are used to in the food world. Society (political The Hague) can learn from this without having to reinvent the wheel. Let me try to explain the comparison between food production and this corona pandemic based on the above four points.
There is no system of risk analysis for corona. And especially not at sector or company level. There is a great opportunity here! The “preservation method” used to kill the virus is a) alcohol and b) water and soap. But there are many more ways to destroy viruses. Here too, we could use the technology knowledge from the food sector.
Hospitals, care homes and large halls are rarely designed around the phenomenon of “how do I prevent a virus infection”. With the eyes of a Hygienic Design expert you really look at the design and layout of buildings in a different way. Our sector has this knowledge!
Just as you cannot monitor individual food products, you cannot test every Dutch person for corona every day. But you have to test! The statistics of correct testing (of the environment!) And analyzing the results is something that GGDs are for. And I think that GGD and food technologists can learn a lot from each other. We humans meet people who are potentially ill. A food producer buys ingredients that can also be potentially contaminated. A food producer thoroughly assesses his suppliers before raw materials are purchased. How could that work out in the future? Do we want to show the yellow GGD passport to each other?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that if we mobilize the practical knowledge in the food system, we can do a lot of useful work for our entire society. The sooner we can get back to work, the better. But we must now also prepare for a post-corona era in which viruses always roam, and risks of subsequent waves or outbreaks remain. The food industry has learned its lessons in the last fifty years and based on this it has set up an entire system around HACCP and Hygienic Design. Our society has now experienced a major wake-up call: a pandemic is not a theoretical concept, it is a real risk. So let us as GMV member also help other sectors with their “hygienic challenges”!
Wouter de Heij M.Sc.
Board member GMV
CEO of TOP b.v