How one food manufacturer is protecting employees against COVID-19

As a family-run food manufacturer for over three decades, Skjodt-Barrett Foods has always put their employees first. When COVID-19 arrived in North America, they knew that protecting their employees at both their facilities in Brampton, Ontario and Lebanon, Indiana meant they would also be protecting everyone’s families—and, by extension, the communities in which they live. “This is the pledge in which we operate every day, in all that we do,” Skjodt confirms

We have to understand this better. We owe it to our employees.

— Dan Skjodt, owner & founder, Skjodt-Barrett Foods

Quality Control

As a food co-manufacturing facility, Skjodt-Barrett has always produced its products according to the strictest food and safety standards. All procedures are process mapped and quality is meticulously measured at every stage during production using the latest technology.

Months before COVID-19 arrived in North America, Skjodt-Barrett’s quality control team preemptively increased its testing and cleaning protocols. Employees were supplied with more PPE, plexiglass barriers were installed, temperature testing and assessments were introduced. But they knew they could be doing more. Just as technology has helped prevent exposure to other food-borne pathogens, they knew that only regular testing could confirm if COVID-19 was at one of their plants.

This is bigger than all of us. Given the opportunity to pilot a program that could be the game changer in fighting COVID in our industry, we didn’t hesitate to get on board.

— Brian Reesor, VP, Supply Chain

Enter Songbird Life Science

When Brian Reesor, Skjodt-Barrett’s VP, Supply Chain, introduced his company to the Songbird Life Science program, he knew Skjodt-Barrett’s president, Thomas Dreher, wouldn’t hesitate to implement these additional protection measures: “This is why I work at Skjodt-Barrett. It’s not about protecting business and bottom lines,” Reesor says. “It’s about protecting our employees and getting this right to help the food industry as a whole succeed in the fight against COVID-19.”

In the spring, when the pandemic reached North America, people were visibly scared. The day that Dreher announced internally that the company was partnering with Songbird Life Science to add onsite COVID-19 testing and monitoring, “there was a collective sigh of relief,” says Reesor. “You could see people’s shoulders drop.” Once again, employees knew that their leadership was committed to investing in innovation and new technology to protect their well-being.

person swabbing faucet
Swabbing high-touch surfaces regularly is key to understanding if COVID-19 is on site.

Added security 

Within weeks, Songbird Life Science was onsite to review cleaning systems, building mechanisms and workflows, as well as to understand how employees, tradespeople and visitors move around the building. From implementing specific Health Canada recommended disinfectants to layout modifications to touchless sign-in and -out procedures, Skjodt-Barrett quickly took the necessary steps to reduce its risks. A full testing blitz of 200 surfaces was then conducted, providing the Brampton facility with a certificate of analysis within 24 hours.

From there, the Songbird team trained the quality control team on how to administer the DNA-diagnostic testing independently. “It is important for us to get more scientific facts behind what is going on in our facility and partnering with Songbird is enabling us to do that,” says Dreher.

Today, the team confidently uses the scientifically validated PCR technology, in the form of the Hyris bCUBE, to accurately test for COVID-19 as part of their regular quality control procedures. Knowing that the testing follows the protocol recommended by the CDC- and WHO-recommended guidelines offers the extra assurance they need to “ensure the safest working environments and keep operations running,” says Dreher.

DNA-diagnostic testing equipment
Only DNA-diagnostic testing can accurately identify if the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is present.

Partners in innovation

The Songbird Life Science program is now fully integrated at both Skjodt-Barrett facilities and employee response has been very positive. Feedback from an internal survey declared the program a “home run” and confirmed for leadership that it “was a great morale booster for the plant.” The Songbird program contributed to “making people feel safe!”

When we support the lives of every employee they can, in turn, better support their families and communities. Everyone benefits.

— Thomas Dreher, president. Skjodt-Barrett Foods

And by demonstrating that this new, innovative program works, Skjodt-Barrett is pioneering a path for other food manufacturers. They are leading the industry in showing that proactive steps taken today to protect against COVID-19 will prepare them well for any new pathogen that may arrive tomorrow.