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Modeling and Training to Enhance Resilience of the U.S. Food System to COVID-19 Labor Shortages

Nifa Author
Guest Author, Communications Office
Guest Author
Dr. Renata Ivanek, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a team of Cornell University researchers, partnering with startup iFoodDecisionSciences (iFoodDS), is conducting a project to model the spread of COVID-19 and to identify optimal mitigation strategies for labor-intensive food processing facilities - those involving food industries in which workers typically work very close to each other: produce, dairy, beef, pork, and poultry processing facilities; and produce farms.

Photo of food processing worker in plant. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Our model is called the ‘COVID-19 Infection & Food Production Capacity Model.’ Once we develop this model, we will scale it up and implement it at volunteer facilities to improve their effectiveness at addressing and mitigating COVID-19. Our goal is to develop a decision support tool that can help processing facilities to develop their own mitigation programs.

In parallel to the modeling work, the investigators are developing and delivering a comprehensive, online, interactive Extension training program on COVID-19 control strategies.  This is important because, these strategies and trainings will allow the food industry to better manage the effects of COVID-19, and that should increase the resilience of the U.S. food supply chain now and in the future.

These are the team members and what each of us contributes:
 
  • Dr. Renata Ivanek, Cornell University, Dept. of Population Medicine and Diagnostics Sciences - Epidemiology, mathematical modeling, infectious diseases, and food systems
  • Dr. Samuel Alcaine, Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science. – Extension, food systems and dairy production
  • Dr. Martin Wiedmann, Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science – Extension, food industry, microbiology
  • Dr. Aaron Adalja, Cornell University, Dyson School of Applied Economics and – Agricultural economics
  • Dr. Claire Zoellner, iFoodDS – Food safety specialist, with mathematical modeling and food systems expertise
  • Diane Wetherington, iFoodDS – Executive Chairman and founder of the startup, with food industry software expertise
What we do is try to strategize what will minimize the risk for workers, and at the same time allow production to continue to the highest safe degree possible. We provide training (in English and Spanish) for frontline workers, teaching them how to behave, and how to protect themselves and others. Finally, we are developing a coordinated decision-support tool to manage COVID-19 in food production facilities and operations. The outcome of our study will be an improved resilience of the U.S. Food System, not only for this pandemic, but for any other future threat.
 

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