Amid the COVID-19 outbreak across Europe the European fresh fruit and vegetable sector has increased efforts to ensure a continuous and diverse supply of safe, high quality fresh fruit and vegetables for consumers in Europe and around the world. With at-home consumption increasing as the outbreak develops, ensuring consumers can maintain a healthy, balanced diet with access to fresh fruit and vegetables remains a top priority for the European fruit and vegetable sector.
Freshfel Europe together with its members has been closely monitoring the implications of the COVID-19 outbreak for the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain across Europe. Now officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the closure of border crossings in Europe for people has delayed some operations in the fresh produce supply chain. However, all possible measures have been taken across the chain to maintain supply of high quality fresh produce. With the closure of restaurants and cafés in many Member States, consumers are increasingly reliant on the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables in retail outlets for at-home consumption. The fresh fruit and vegetable sector is holding discussions with public authorities to guarantee a ‘fresh corridor’ to fast-track trucks transporting highly perishable fresh fruit and vegetables to guarantee timely supply. This includes securing vehicles and drivers in a timely manner in the right locations and introducing protocols to ensure trade flows. Discussions are also being centred on securing resources for the upcoming picking season, such as having enough employees picking in orchards and working in packing stations and further down the supply chain.
Measures are being taken by all European fresh produce companies to provide the highest protection to workers in the supply chain. Non-essential staff are working from home, distances between essential operating staff have been increased, the highest hygiene precautions in pack-houses and wholesale markets are being taken and truck drivers are being isolated to decrease the risk of shortages of these crucial personnel in maintaining operations. In retail outlets staff and consumer safety is of the highest priority. Precautions have increased to ensure the highest level of safety for essential staff re-stocking shelves to meet heightening demand for products and for consumers expecting safe, high quality fresh products.
The highest levels of food safety and hygiene are being met by operators in the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain amid the COVID-19 outbreak. While the European Food Safety Authority has stated that there is no evidence that transmission through food consumption could occur, the sector reminds consumers to follow the precautionary recommendations issued by the WHO on good hygiene practices during any food handling and preparation. This includes washing hands, using different chopping boards and knives for raw meat and cooked food and avoiding potential cross-contamination between cooked and uncooked foods. All these efforts by the sector are facilitating consumers in continuing to have a healthy balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables throughout the outbreak.