COVID-19 and its Ongoing Impact on Food Testing
The first reports of COVID-19 came in December 2019 from Wuhan, China. By mid-January, the virus had reached the United States. In mid-March, much of our country was experiencing the first wave of the outbreak. In three quick months, we went from life as normal to an entirely new set of circumstances.
The pandemic meant closures, shutdowns, interruptions, and unpredictability—including uncertainties about food supply availability and safety. Now, nearly one year later, we are in the midst of the second wave of outbreaks. However, the situation is much different.
Multiple vaccines have been approved, and shipments have begun arriving across the country. Plus, we understand more about how COVID-19 spreads and how this pandemic impacts food supply and food testing.
Medallion Labs takes this moment to look back on what we projected, what occurred, and what we can learn from this past year. For example, despite a robust continuity plan, we experienced increased turn-around time on some testing results. We’ll address this topic and other scenarios that could arise moving forward.
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COVID-19 Created an Increased Demand for Food
In many respects, what Medallion Labs reported this past summer regarding food demand held true throughout the year. Grocery sales increased significantly as people filled their pantries and storage containers with food. For some, this was to avoid frequent trips to the grocery store. For others who anticipated possible production shortages or transportation challenges, it was an effort to stockpile products.
Obviously, normal production didn’t keep up with increased demand. This was especially true for frozen goods, flour, pasta, soups, rice, canned items, and other non-perishable food products. These items were often in short supply on store shelves.
In retrospect, food production as a whole was only slightly hindered by COVID-19. The most notable issues occurred in beef, pork, and poultry processing plants that closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks among staff. Despite early fears, no food products were infected with or transmitters of COVID-19. In fact, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.
We now know fears about food safety and food availability were largely misplaced, but they were also understandable due to limited knowledge about the virus and how it spread.
COVID-19 Resulted in an Increased Demand for Rapid Food Testing
Medallion Labs anticipated the demand for food testing would increase. What we didn’t project fully was the scale of the need for rapid testing results.
As food sales outstripped supply, facilities ramped up production to meet demand. This change ultimately created a need for increased food testing volume with rapid turn results.
Even now, food industry demand remains high while inventory is at an all-time low. This situation intensifies the need for fast analytical food safety results that allow products to reach the market quickly.
Exactly how accelerated did the testing situation get? There were occasions when trucks were loaded and ready to deliver products that were still waiting for test results to validate nutritional label information or other details.
COVID-19 Introduced New Food Testing Clients
Not only did the frequency and volume of food testing increase with existing clients, but Medallion Labs welcomed many new clients and products into our labs during the past months.
Food scarcity and shortages created an opportunity for new manufacturers to step in and increase overall production. Many food product creators and manufacturers found themselves with a need for food safety testing as well as nutritional label testing. These new clients turned to Medallion Labs to fulfill this need.
The increase in clients was an unanticipated outcome of COVID-19. Our team rose to the challenge. We were able to onboard new customers and meet their testing needs while maintaining relationships with our long-established clients.
Sanitation and Safety In the Lab During COVID-19
Prior to COVID-19, Medallion Labs followed a stringent guideline of sanitation and safety protocols. However, once the pandemic started, we implemented extra precautions to ensure our staff’s health and safety. These alterations allowed testing to continue while also protecting our employees. We also took steps to ensure our staff’s safety, health, and availability while outside the lab. These protocols included social distancing and following recommendations from the state of Minnesota and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for COVID-19.
Our steps for safety also included the following:
- All employees who can work from home are doing so at this time.
- On-site staff was reduced and moved to staggered shifts.
- Temperature monitoring is required for all on-site staff upon building entry.
- Cancellation of all upcoming facility visits from clients.
- Segregation within the laboratory to maintain social distance.
Potential COVID-19 Related Concerns Moving Forward
A healthy staff and sanitary lab are critical to ensuring Medallion Labs offers reliable, accurate, and timely food testing results. That stated, there are additional factors beyond our control that could result in future delays.
Like any lab, we depend on certain consumables and chemicals for testing. At times we have had some issues with back-ordered chemicals. Should COVID-19 create future supply chain issues with these materials, it could potentially disrupt our ability to run specific tests. We do not expect this to be the case, nor are we hinting at a likely possibility. Instead, we say this to be completely transparent.
Check here for up-to-the-moment information on the impacts of COVID-19 at Medallion Labs. We will also note test-specific turnaround time delays on our tech data sheets.
The Lessons of COVID-19 Prepare Us For Future Challenges
Even with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines, most reports expect the U.S. will not return to a sense of normalcy until late summer 2021. If the vaccines provide the anticipated 95% efficacy reported, only 70% of the American population would need to be inoculated to achieve herd immunity.
At Medallion Labs, we continue to practice our own safety measures as well as those of the CDC and the state of Minnesota. Our goal is to continue serving existing and new clients with timely, accurate, and reliable food testing results to meet the market’s needs.
What’s more, we look back at these lessons as opportunities to improve and prepare for other possible crises and unprecedented events. We take what we learn, apply it to our continuity plans and protocols, and continue to improve as a reliable and prepared partner.
Whatever your product or testing needs, turn to Medallion Labs tech data sheets and online order form for the latest details. Our breadth of testing options helps you maximize your testing budget by providing the results you seek in a cost-efficient manner.