Processing industry turns to technology to contain COVID-19

Online health-screening platforms and apps can help processors spot and control emerging outbreaks.

As communities and businesses across Canada face swelling COVID numbers, stakeholders in Canada’s beef industry are trying to help processors ride the second wave.

Keeping employees healthy and containing outbreaks has been top-of-mind for processors across North America since COVID broke last spring. It’s become de rigueur to screen plant employees for symptoms each day, but using that information to spot trends is another issue. Both TrustBix and Canada Beef have worked with software developers so that employees can complete online health assessments at home, alerting plant management of potential cases and emerging outbreaks.

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TrustBIX came on board as a channel partner when Provision Analytics developed Basecase, an online platform that records symptoms through a series of questions. Employees can enter symptoms at home on a PC or iPad, or from their cell phone. Alternately, a staff member can record the information at a main entry point into the facility. The platform draws from Provision’s OneTrace, a food safety program for processors.

“My heart is always, always with the producers,” says Deb Wilson, chief industry engagement officer at TrustBix. Keeping up with harvest numbers is important, she adds, as any delays filter through the whole industry.

At the time of writing, Provision Analytics was finishing the implementation of Basecase with Centennial Foodservice, a custom meat processor with 14 locations across Canada. Centennial’s customers include pubs, restaurants, hotels and healthcare facilities within Canada and beyond.

Like many processors, Harmony Beef, a smaller federally inspected facility near Calgary, has faced outbreaks among workers since March. In early December, Harmony launched a symptom-tracking app dubbed Harmony Cares. The app, a non-profit venture developed with Canada Beef and Tangle Media, sends employees a text or email with a link to the online questionnaire each morning, writes Canada Beef vice-president Mark Klassen via email.

If employees report any symptoms, Harmony Cares displays suggestions on managing symptoms as well as a colour-coded screen that can be viewed by staff screening for symptoms at the plant’s entrance. It also forwards employee responses to the plant’s human resources and nursing staff, allowing them to monitor trends by department.
Harmony is asking employees to complete the health assessment every day of the week, writes Irina Khvan, human resources manager at the company.

“It is possible that by detecting symptoms which occur on the weekend, we can even take action to limit the potential spread of illness before the start of the next work week,” says Khvan. Ultimately, they hope to prevent COVID-19 among workers and their families, she adds.

One challenge is that companies often have facilities in several locations, says Wilson. Provision built World Health Organization guidelines into Basecase, and also enables companies to customize the program with guidelines from their own regions. The platform has a dashboard that gives head office an overview, and allows companies to organize data based on physical location or business unit, she adds.

Provision Analytics has also made the platform usable in seven languages at Centennial’s request, Wilson says. They’re also addressing how to handle visitors to Centennial’s locations.

Not all of Harmony Beef’s employees count English as their first language, either. That meant keeping wording in the app as simple as possible, while still conveying important information, says Khvan. The colour-coding is based on a traffic light analogy, with green indicating no symptoms and ready to work. Red means stay home due to symptoms. Employees with yellow status must be cleared by the nurse before returning to work.

As for employee privacy, Wilson notes that Basecase complies with U.S. healthcare privacy legislation, as well as Canadian privacy legislation. The Harmony Cares app doesn’t track employee locations and only human resources, nursing and employees screening for health info at the facility’s entrance have access to the health information.
Ashley Sullivan, nurse at Harmony Beef, adds that although it looks like a vaccine will be available earlier than expected, there are several difficult months ahead until sufficient doses are available.

“The app will help us make it through the winter months and can also record important attributes such as the completion of COVID-19-related training and vaccination status,” she says.

About the author

Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is the editor of Canadian Cattlemen. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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