How should facilities deal with COVID-19?

From cleaning to new policies granted by recent Congressional action, the coronavirus is changing the workplace in food and supplement facilities.

Todd Runestad, Content Director,

March 25, 2020

3 Min Read
How should facilities deal with COVID-19?

Scientific and medical authorities have declared that the coronavirus is not a food-borne agent and thus foods as well as dietary supplements are not carriers.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is COVID-19 is transferrable from person to person. And that means employees can spread the disease.

“The FDA, from the perspective that this is not a food-borne illness and transmittable that way, has said that facilities will not have to shut down,” said Miriam Guggenheim, a lawyer in the food, drug and device practice group at the Covington & Burling law firm. “The emphasis is on other employees, not the products you produce.”

Guggenheim still recommends employees at food and supplement facilities redouble their cleaning practices, with a focus on high-touch areas.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have both produced websites that show disinfectants, antiseptics, and other sanitizers that have been approved for use on the coronavirus.

Insurance claims

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to three days on plastic and stainless steel, and a day on cardboard.

“The coronavirus can persist on walls and floors for many days or weeks,” said Matt Schlesinger, in the insurance practice group at Covington, on a call produced by the Council for Responsible Nutrition trade group. “That constitutes physical damage.”

Schlesinger said that if companies want to file insurance claims, the appropriate staffers must collect and review all relevant policies to see if the company might be covered.

“The wording of these policies matter,” said Schlesinger. “I wouldn’t take no for an answer. You really need to parse the language to see what coverage you have and what you don’t.

He said it is important for companies to document their losses. If there’s a presence of the virus in a facility, note it, document it, as well as documenting the expenses a company is incurring.

“You don’t need to know all of your losses,”  he said, “but to the extent you think you’re covered it’s good to let insurer know, and you can supplement it later.”

Employee policies

Cleaning and disinfecting is important, especially for visiting third parties.

“Check to determine if you’re under legal obligation to provide face masks or protective clothing to employees,” said Lindsay Burke, in the Covington employment practice group.

If visiting customers ask if anyone in a company has tested positive for COVID-19, Burke said a company’s employee should respond to the best of his or her knowledge.

“Do not disclose the identity of the affected employee,” said Burke. “And if you have just a sick employee with no other indications of coronavirus exposure, you don’t have to tell other employees unless they were in a coronavirus area.”

For workers sent home to work while the country is in shut-down mode, it’s important to note that worker’s comp also applies for homes.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law on March 18, has two components with companies that have fewer than 500 employees. One grants up to two weeks of sick leave. Funds companies have to pay for the sick leave are regained with a tax credit. Also, employees get job leave for 12 weeks for closed schools. The first 12 are unpaid, though parents can use paid sick leave. The next 10 weeks are paid by the employer but with a cap and employers can get that money back with a tax credit, according to Burke.

About the Author(s)

Todd Runestad

Content Director,, Natural Products Insider

Todd Runestad has been writing on nutrition science news since 1997. He is content director for and Natural Products Insider digital magazines. Other incarnations: supplements editor for, Delicious Living!, and Natural Foods Merchandiser. Former editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients magazine and still covers raw material innovations and ingredient science.

Connect with me here on LinkedIn.


Todd writes about nutrition science news such as this story on mitochondrial nutrients, innovative ingredients such as this story about 12 trendy new ingredient launches from SupplySide West 2023, and is a judge for the NEXTY awards honoring innovation, integrity and inspiration in natural products including his specialty — dietary supplements. He extensively covered the rise and rise and rise and fall of cannabis hemp CBD. He helps produce in-person events at SupplySide West and SupplySide East trade shows and conferences, including the wildly popular Ingredient Idol game show, as well as Natural Products Expo West and Natural Products Expo East and the NBJ Summit. He was a board member for the Hemp Industries Association.

Education / Past Lives

In previous lives Todd was on the other side of nature from natural products — natural history — as managing editor at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He's sojourned to Burning Man and Mount Everest. He graduated many moons ago from the State University of New York College at Oneonta.


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