PepsiCo China said on Monday that their beverage and snack products remained safe for consumption after it suspended operations at a food processing unit in Beijing due to confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The confirmation of the novel coronavirus cases at its potato chipmaking unit had triggered safety concerns among consumers and prompted calls to strengthen safety norms for food production across the nation.
According to PepsiCo China, there have been eight confirmed COVID-19 cases at its unit in Ciwei Road, Beijng. The factory is one of the seven food factories in China making canned Lay's chips. The factory has initiated emergency measures and suspended production, disinfected and sterilized the environment, quarantined personnel and conducted thorough inspections after an employee was confirmed as a COVID-19 patient on June 15, said Fan Zhimin, an employee with the public relations department of PepsiCo China.
PepsiCo, which owns world-leading brands like Pepsi Cola, Quaker oats, Doritos chips and 7up, said they have sampled and tested their products and environment while ensuring that the products manufactured since the re-emergence of new COVID-19 cases at the Xinfadi Market are locked down.
Testing has been offered to all workers at the factory on June 16 and those who tested negative are currently under quarantine at designated places since June 20. Those who live with the employees are under home-quarantine.
The company said no confirmed cases have been detected at the bottling units of its Pepsi Cola and production is continuing. At the same time, the company reiterated that its snacks are safe as the possibility of survival of viruses during its snack processing under ultrahigh temperature and the ensuing supply chain is close to zero.
Zhong Kai, director of the China Food Information Center, said the process of making potato chips is rather simple, involving just heating at ultrahigh temperatures. Viruses as a rule do not like the dry environment in the chipmaking process, Zhong said.
Health and safety are more critical to consumers than ever as the world is battling COVID-19 and the ongoing uncertainties it presents, said Jason Yu, general manager of Kantar Worldpanel China.
He said the temporary shutdown of the Pepsi food plant, which mainly produces Lay's, is unlikely to have a material impact on the overall Pepsi business in China. But the company will need to constantly assure consumers that it is conforming to the highest safety standards with zero risk.
"The wider food and beverage industry will also have to make sure that they carry out a thorough inspection of the entire supply chain and production process to avoid any contamination risk. Otherwise, the consequences will be catastrophic," said Yu.
Zhu Hong, a frequent consumer of Lay's chips in Beijing, carefully checked the production date of the bright yellow cans she bought during her prolonged stay at home.
She said she is not keeping or purchasing chips that are produced after May. "I will wait until the epidemic curves are flattened," Zhu said.