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Food Safety Lives in the Now

At the time of this writing, the Omicron variant wave of COVID-19 is receding, but the pandemic is far from over. Barring the emergence of a more infectious or faster-spreading variant, we'll still be wrangling the SARS-CoV-2 virus at a baseline level for some time—with vaccines, with new preventive treatments, with testing, and with good hygiene practices. (On that note: While frequent handwashing is always recommended, let's please continue masking up around others when we're feeling ill "after this is all over!")

Most medical experts predict that COVID-19 will transition into an annual spike of less severe illness as the virus mutates into less aggressive forms—similar to the evolution of the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918. In fact, genetic traces of the 1918 virus can still be found in the seasonal flu viruses that circulate today. In line with this outlook, the world seems ready to "move on" from COVID-19. Whether you welcome this change or regard it with trepidation, national and local governments around the world are relaxing or dropping mask mandates and other pandemic restrictions. From my own observations, social distancing is rarely observed in practice, even if the scuffed marker tape remains adhered to the floor at cafes, airports, and the like. The world appears to be moving toward an acceptance of COVID-19 as endemic, even as the official global death toll from the virus topped a staggering six million in early March.

However ready the world may be to move on from the pandemic, we are still dealing with the aftermath—and will be for some time. The effects of COVID-19 will continue to be felt throughout supply chain, echoing along bare grocery store shelves and throughout food processing facilities unable to procure pallets or packaging parts for their products. Regular contributing author Bob Ferguson reviews the ongoing impacts to supply chain in this issue's Food Safety Insights column, with input from food processors around the world.  

The pandemic and resulting supply chain disruption are causing a host of effects for food processors, including concerns related to food safety. Will delays in product shipments create the conditions for spoilage, contamination, or pest harborage? How will the shifts being seen in the workforce alter the collective expertise of food safety professionals and food workers? Have remote inspections and audits been sufficient to ensure that food safety protocols are being followed at food facilities? (Our Cover Feature by Wendy White, M.Sc., addresses the latter topic in light of technology advances—a must read!)

While much of the world may be ready to move past the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring food safety is something we can never "move on" from. Food safety lives in the now, in the immediacy of our actions. Producing safe food requires constant vigilance. It also requires continual efforts to improve process and preventive controls, to build out a mature food safety culture within every organization, and to identify new and better ways to prevent foodborne illness. Food safety and quality professionals are charged with ensuring safe food for consumers across the world all day, every day—because unlike with COVID-19, we can never let down our guard with food safety.



Adrienne Blume, Editorial Director

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