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New Modeling Tool for COVID-19 Mitigation in the Food Industry

Nifa Author
Angelica Van Goor, National Program Leader

Keeping the essential food production industry going during the pandemic has been challenging, since workers, who often need to work in close proximity to each other, have been falling ill or unable to work due to control strategies. The resulting reduction in food production capacity and facility shutdowns are not only harming workers’ mental health and wellbeing but are also threatening the nation’s food supply.

Funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a team of Cornell University researchers, led by Dr. Renata Ivanek and partnering with food safety software company iFoodDecisionSciences (iFoodDS), has developed a mathematical model that predicts illnesses and absences from work due to COVID-19 among workers on produce farms.
 
By using a computer simulation, the model tests the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies with the goal of identifying those that minimize COVID-19 cases among workers and maintain the best possible production. The model, called FInd CoV Control (Food Industry COVid-19 Control Tool) is freely available as an interactive web-based decision support tool. Through a user-friendly interface, a user enters characteristics of their specific produce farm operation into the model. Then, based on the user inputs, FInd CoV Control runs a simulation on the iFoodDS’ server. The user is provided a confidential report with model predictions to support decision making and contingency planning regarding COVID-19 mitigation in their operation.
 
The report helps users strategize how to minimize the risk for workers, and at the same time allow production to continue to the highest, but still safe, degree possible. While the current version of FInd CoV Control modeling tool is designed specifically for produce farms, the future releases of the tool will model COVID-19 in other labor-intensive food production environments, namely in dairy, beef/pork, poultry and produce processing facilities. 

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