September 30, 2020

Our Darrin McCormies, Epstein's Senior Vice President and Director of Industrial Services, was recently interviewed by Food Engineering magazine to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping the food plants of the future.

In the July article, titled "Pandemic is Changing Layout and Design of Food Plants," Darrin discussed the struggles processors and builders are facing trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 and how they are rethinking many aspects of plant design; from fixing bottlenecks at entrances to possibly adding warehouse space or portable packaging equipment to handle huge demand spikes or drops.

“There's no normal. There's no playbook. There's no standard. We are figuring this out and trying to be smart about adding value and protecting employees,” Darrin said.

According to the article, when looking at how plant layout and operations should shift to tamp down the new coronavirus, these are some of the top changes that processors are considering or already working on:

  • Rethink the trend of shared communal spaces, adding space in new build projects for locker rooms, bathrooms, hygiene junctions and entrances to help workers keep their distance and prevent shift crews from intermingling.
  • Consider whether a new layer of automation makes sense in light of worker outbreaks.
  • Revisit your plan to handle major demand fluctuations like food service providers experienced when restaurants closed. Solutions might include portable packaging equipment, warehousing space, or adjustments to be ready to send product to a co-packer if needed.
  • In existing plants, bump out walls to gain space to spread out restroom stalls or add more clothes changing stalls in locker rooms. Or repurpose your space to add more hygiene junctions and help workers keep their distance.
  • For processing lines under construction, subtly reposition workstations to ensure workers aren’t directly adjacent and to allow space for protective barriers if needed someday.
  • Reconfigure entrance areas or add a vestibule to allow room for walk-through temperature scanners, separate entrance and exit lanes, and isolation areas in case someone isn’t feeling well.
  • Study airflow in areas of high employee concentration. You might need to bring in more fresh air, clean ducts or upgrade filters.

"At meat plants where lines are built with tight work stations to maintain speeds needed to meet demands, physical distancing is more difficult," the article states. "Epstein works with many of the largest meat processors, and McCormies notes that companies reacted quickly to put up plastic screens to try to separate workers and changed procedures to encourage distancing."

“There's some pragmatism to this as well," Darrin told Food Engineering. "Let's do the right things. Let's make the right investment and make things better off.”

To read the article in its entirety, please click here.