Chair of the Australian and New Zealand division of US food giant KraftHeinz, Mike Pretty, will present a case study to Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.
The analysis is based on operations at the group’s Sydney factory last month during the height of the Omicron outbreak in New South Wales when daily cases were hitting 50,000.
Pretty, who is also chair of the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council, shared the case study in an industry webinar, noting that it had already been shared with the Ministry for Primary Industries and its food safety team as the sector ramps up preparation for the Omicron outbreak.
There were four key takeaways from the case study, which was largely based on activity at the manufacturer’s Seven Hills factory – a location which Pretty described as the epicentre of the Sydney outbreak. The suburb and those surrounding where many factory employees lived were rife with Omicron cases.
The first high-level insight from the Australian business, which manufacturers around 350 SKUs in food and beverage products, was around fast-paced and highly responsive ministerial oversight.
“What we saw was a very fast-paced and also incredibly responsive and reflexive attitude towards Covid [from businesses], knowing full well that the [government] itself couldn’t actually react as quickly as businesses need to. So, that is a critical insight and one which we have been making to MPI and one that I will be making to the associate minister.”
The second insight regarded the cynical view that if companies are being allowed to make their own decisions, will they prioritise staying open and producing food at the cost of taking lives?
“The clear answer is no they will not,” Pretty said, explaining that the implication of organisations of not taking their workplace health and safety requirements seriously, such as fines or jail, far outweighed the upside of making a few more cases of product to put on the shelf.
The third insight was the criticality of RATs within factory operations.
RATs played a major role in identifying and managing omicron cases and preventing spread within the factory and were also a “game-changer” in getting close contacts back to work after seven days isolation.
For example, under Delta there were five cases in the Seven Hills factory leading to 24-48 hour shutdowns; under Omicron the factory has so far had 28 isolated cases equating to 18 percent of the factory – but had not had any shutdowns.
The company has even converted meeting rooms into RAT stations with monitors that show how to take the test and what to do if it is positive or negative.
The final insight was the benefit of running an extremely disciplined factory Covid management plan.
Examples of what this looked like in the Seven Hills factory included measures like workplace bubbles – represented on the factory floor by different coloured hairnets – staggered start and break times and driving high vaccination rates of 89% double-dosed.