- Ray Bowe, Chair [RB]
- James McCrudden [JMC]
- Dermot Gates [DG]
- Annette Sweeney [AS]
- Maree Gallagher [MG]
- Eamonn Quinn [EQ]
- Cormac Healy [CH]
- Tim O’Brien [TOB]
- Martin Roper [MR]
- Siobhan Murphy [SM]
- Dermott Jewell [DJ]
- Pamela Byrne [PB].
- Jamie Knox [JK].
- Raymond Ellard [RE]
- Dorothy Guina Dornan, [DGD]
- Gerard Power [GP].
The Chair welcomed all to the meeting and thanked them for attending. A brief conversation of current restrictions in place due to Covid-19 ensued with input from many members.
Minutes of previous meeting on 17th October 2019
The minutes of the previous were agreed with no feedback. The open meeting from November 2019 was also brought up and complemented by The Chair, no further feedback was sought from other committee members.
FSAI Response to COVID-19
Pamela Byrne gave a very detailed update to all members outlining many of the initiatives, new practices, challenges and tasks facing the FSAI considering the current pandemic. PB stressed that the health and safety of all staff was at the very core of all decisions made in relation how to implement remote working in order to continue delivering service to all stakeholders. Over the course of the update PB provided the following updates:
- The FSAI had begun testing remote working using a test team before the government’s decision to implement lockdown in March. All systems and communication avenues were stress tested and any issues identified were remedied to ensure remote workers could fulfil daily responsibilities. By the end of June all FSAI employees would be connected via FSAI devises, ensuring further security of information after extensive work by the IT team.
- PB provided details of the response team set up within FSAI to consider and implement all issues and tasks identified by the current situation. A broad spectrum of members from within the organisation were mentioned, highlighting representation from all sections within the organisation as we plan return to office scenarios and practices. PB mentioned that while the current plan was to begin the transition process back to the office, this was dependent on future government advice. PB assured members that the selected response team regularly met and updated the organisation of discussions and agreed measures.
- PB discussed the Health & Wellbeing initiatives implemented within FSAI to keep staff engaged whilst working remotely. Various online social events were organised within FSAI such as coffee break meetings online and a pub quiz staged by the Sports & Social committee. PB mentioned that a staff engagement survey was also planned for Sept 2020 in order to receive feedback from employees.
- The issue of retail engagement was discussed at length, PB providing details of the revised and new FAQ section entries to provide retail and public stakeholders information on what best practises could be considering while dealing with the current pandemic. A notable increase in traffic to this section on the organisation website was described as an encouraging sign by PB that the retail sector and public were eager to seek guidance on food safety measures in order to protect themselves and their customers.
- Due to reassignment and adapted work practices within the contracted inspectorate agencies utilised by FSAI, PB noted the challenges and obstacles this provided FSAI over the coming months. Various employees within HSE would not be able to carry out standard duties with restrictions in place and PB acknowledged increased workloads within these agencies may slow down duties normally carried out on behalf of FSAI.
- Fáilte Ireland were working closely with FSAI and other agencies in order to prepare strong guidelines for the service and tourist sector in advance of their planned re-opening to members of the public. PB stressed the desire to avoid a potential food safety crisis during a public health crisis.
- Cross agency work was continuing using the same channels. The Food Incidents team were continuing to utilise The Commission to deliver the same work while working remotely. EFSA remained in contact with Ireland, highlighting future discussions and planning around controls and legislation would continue to be addressed via online seminars and meetings.
There were no matters arising.
Open Meeting 2020
While current restrictions would prohibit any public gatherings, the council were hopeful an online webinar later in the year may facilitate this need best.
Action: Further discussion to be had at a later date to determine the best way to arrange such an event.
COVID-19 issues - open discussion
The council engaged in a detailed discussion in which each member addressed the challenges presented in their relevant sector as a result of Covid-19, and the many solutions and adaptive practices undertaken to facilitate such an unprecedented event. Some of the more detailed conversations included the following updates:
- Ray Bowe provided an update of the pre-emptive measures taken my Musgraves in advance of the restrictions announced by the Irish government, with a response team set up in February to prepare for all upcoming problems relating to the virus. Their priority was to maintain the supply chain, predict likely demand of certain items and deal with the increase or decrease at certain retail stores. Protective measures were implemented for all staff and customers to try and ensure safety for everybody and over 600 employees began remote working in March, with the long-term aim of a return to the office once it is safe to do so.
- Cormac Healy provided insight into the discussions IBEC were having in relation to the current environment. CH stated that over 96% of the cases traced back to meat plants had recovers and returned to work, while the remaining cases continued to isolate in line with current government guidelines. A message of vigilance and lack of complacency was being stressed to all plants to help keep everyone focused. CH confirmed some plants had begun implementing temperature checks on employees before beginning work and that most plants were updating procedures in preparation of any second wave of the virus.
- Dermot Gates updated the council on the challenges and actions taken by Boxmore Plastics. After being designated as an essential industry in advance of the restrictions Boxmore had begun updating previous procedures from the Bird Flu pandemic, updating with Covid-19 in mind and stressing the importance of social distancing particularly. Extra staff were hired to keep up with the demand in business and most staff who had initially chose to isolate had begun to resume their roles and assist with the challenges faced by the company.
- Dermot Jewell led a conversation on the likely financial impact expected for all businesses and employees as a result of prolonged lockdowns and/or need for isolation. There was specific emphasis placed on the packages being prepared by the government to assist small businesses and helping them emerge from such unprecedented drop in revenue. DJ stressed the likely impact on employees also in challenges they would face in relation to debt payments, rent and possible need for further loans to assist them.
- Siobhan Murphy confirmed that the HSE had resumed inspections of premises after a brief hold on practices. This was facilitated by a mix of sight inspections, office work and remote work by HSE employees. SM stated the expectancy was to return to inspections on a more frequent basis now that social distance practises were implemented to assist the inspectorate.
- Eamonn Quinn advised how Kelsius had seen a drastic increase in queries from clients in relation to establishing practices and safety measures that would allow them to open in due course. EQ stressed the need for transparency across the food chain and a growing number of customers had begun to seek information on how best to digitise their practices, moving away from a traditional paper-based system of orders and inventory.
- Maree Gallagher outlined the legal advice provided by Covington to their many clients in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Guidance was sought on a range of topics that included regulatory clearance, the definition of an essential worker, employer and employee rights. Clients sought advise on the sourcing of PPE equipment, adapting their production plants to start producing items sought such as sanitiser and ventilators. With offices all over the globe, Covington became increasingly aware of the growing problem in February when their offices in China were closed, but stated that although all offices around the world had initially closed they were beginning to return to work in line with local guidance.
Raymond Ellard updated the members on the main issues that have arisen in the FSAI since the last meeting. These included a summary of:
- Covid-19 Labelling Flexibility Issues
- Guidance for food business during COVID 19
- Official Controls of Food
- Audits & Investigations
- Spirit Drinks
- Risk Management
- Food Supplements
A detailed update was provided to all committee members via email in advance of the meeting and it was agreed that members would review and revert to FSAI with any queries or issues they wished to discuss further if necessary.
There was no other business.
Date of next meeting
Due to the ongoing Pandemic it was agreed that future discussions of the next meeting date would begin once the level of restrictions was known. The chair stated by September or early October they hoped it would be ok to have a new one and would follow up in due course.