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How a large Canadian food manufacturer is beating COVID-19

McCormick Canada

It's been hard enough for any workplace to protect employees during the pandemic, but add surging demand for your product and the challenges multiply. That's the situation faced by McCormick Canada, the country's largest spice, seasoning, dry sauce and seasoning mixes, specialty foods, and flavours business.

As part of an essential industry, the company couldn't wait and watch. It had to act. Dylan Eldred, Health and Safety Manager, shared with eNews how McCormick Canada has responded so far. While they have operations across Ontario, our conversation focused on the London, Ontario plant, which employs 500 people.

"In the beginning, the big thing was physical distancing," says Dylan. For example, to minimize interaction between shifts, the company staggered and shortened shifts from eight hours to six hours and 45 minutes - without reducing wages - and established different start times for various departments. "During your entire shift you really only come into contact with a handful of people," he says.

To ensure two-metre physical distancing in common areas, the company removed furniture and posted signs. Where a two metre separation wasn't possible, the company installed plexiglass barriers.

These precautions were just the start. McCormick Canada also

  • dramatically increased the frequency and depth of cleaning. "The norm for the food industry is to clean at the beginning and end of a shift. Now we're doing complete sanitization and scrubbing."
  • installed sanitizers throughout the facility. "To ensure availability, we converted one of our production lines so we could make hand sanitizer internally" (shown in photo).
  • supplemented COVID-19 self-assessments with monitoring everyone's temperatures when they arrive on site. "Everybody goes through a thermal camera to validate that they are not running a fever."
  • instituted a quarantine protocol for workers even if they had only been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19. "Under the protocol we send them home with pay, tarp off any areas where they may have been, completely clean the areas from ceiling to floor, and conduct a track and trace."
  • increased joint health and safety committee inspections from monthly to weekly to check for potential hazards related to COVID-19 and the upswing in production. Supervisors also do daily walk-throughs.
  • began requiring all employees to wear facial coverings, and more recently face shields. Mindful of public shortages, McCormick donated a thousand N-95 respirators to the London Health Sciences Centre. "We already had a large supply on hand for employees in our blending compartment, and donating them was something that employees were really happy about."
  • introduced daily COVID-19 audits. "We check that people are washing their hands, cleaning their stations, wearing their PPE properly and physical distancing."

Through all these changes, communication has helped bind these components - and more - into a cohesive whole.

"All of the face-to-face meetings we used to have just stopped because of COVID. So, we had to come up with alternatives," says Dylan. Since March, McCormick Canada has gradually implemented a number of communication channels. For example:

  • an information centre featuring daily updates and handouts, including Q&As
  • a texting service for sending important information and updates to employees' phones
  • TV monitors in the cafeteria for sharing key messages

Regular communications also go two ways. Crew leaders on the floor have a daily call with senior leaders enabling them to share employee questions and concerns. Senior leaders also have daily calls with team managers and the plant leadership team. "We have a specific call on just COVID-related items," says Dylan.

Communicating regularly has helped address employees' fears about COVID-19 and instill confidence in the steps being taken to keep them healthy and safe. And so far, so good. The facility has recorded only one case of COVID-19. "It was an eye-opener for everyone and helped reinforce the value of everything we were doing."

  • WSPS' COVID-19 hub offers direct access to all  WSPS pandemic-related articles, downloadable checklists, webinars, eCourses, and more. We're adding more items all the time.