How we got our plant in China up and running in the COVID-19 pandemic
We are now months into this global pandemic known as COVID-19. By now most people would know plenty about it, but this was not the case earlier this year when it first started.
Lunar New Year is China’s biggest holiday annually, but this year, there were none of the usual gatherings, firecrackers or festive cheer. All celebrations were cancelled due to the unexpected virus outbreak.
Panic buying in the supermarkets led to instant noodles being sold out. As the biggest consumers of instant noodles globally, this shortage was worrying for Chinese citizens. In such times of uncertainty, we knew that we had a responsibility as a food manufacturing company, to maintain supply of our noodles and give the general public some assurance.
Breaking the tradition of family reunions during the holiday period, a handful of us from the management team returned to the factory on the fourth day of the Lunar New Year to prepare to restart instant noodle production.
Preparation is key
At that time, we only had preliminary information about the virus, so we worked under close guidance from the Wu Gong County government officers and senior management within Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food in this preparation phase. Because of its similarity to SARS, we applied the same prevention and control techniques – mobilising supplies such as disinfectant sprayers, body temperature scanners, personal protective equipment, inspection posts at the main gates, etc
I personally drafted outbreak prevention in the workplace documents, as a guide for all returning employees on how to stay safe. We also came up with the “employee health declaration” and ” factory access” forms to record employees’ movements in the office. These documents were effective control measures and even subsequently became government promoted templates.
We were able to complete our preparation work in five hours thanks to prompt action and good teamwork.
Returning to work
Demonstrating a clear action plan to prevent and control the potential spread of the virus in the workplace was a key point for the government to give us approval to resume production. Before returning to work on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year, all employees had to attend a comprehensive training to familiarise themselves with new production requirements during the pandemic.
We adopted a “closed management” method for 50 days, where all returning employees had to live on-premise. This was to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus outside, to ensure employees stayed healthy. It was not easy, but everyone maintained a can-do attitude as part of their duty to society. The closed management method was effective as we had zero cases of sickness within our premises, even though infection rates were escalating elsewhere. Closed management was also later required by the government for all industrial parks.
In ensuring safe food production, we could never be too careful. “Always wear a mask, wash hands frequently, and always disinfect” – this was the employees’ mantra and the basic requirement for our protection. Our measures included:
- Wearing cotton mask with an additional layer of surgical mask as protection
- Body temperature measurement four times a day
- Placing special ‘disinfection carpets’ in areas with frequent activities
- Equipping canteens with a disinfection sink for hand-washing
- Adding ventilation facilities in the work area
While we focused very much on prevention and control, we were still very mindful of production goals. In those 50 days of overtime production, from 29 January to 18 March, the Xianyang factory produced 30 million packs of instant noodles to meet the needs of the local market.
Proud to be part of company that cares
As the first local company in Xianyang to resume production in the pandemic, GAR became an example for many others looking to restart their businesses. We were also approached by several province-, city- and county-level media to share our experience.
I was extremely moved (and also impressed) when our teams in China received care products such as masks, disinfectants and other protective equipment from our GAR overseas offices. Our team was thrilled, and I remember feeling extremely proud at that moment, to be a GAR employee.
The pandemic is far from over, but we have learnt so much from this episode. Regulations have now become good daily habits which will greatly benefit the health and sustainable development of employees and companies. Recalling my journey through this pandemic, I am indeed happy to have been able to contribute my part as a family member of GAR in China.
Learn more about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic globally here.
Su Shao Feng is GAR’s Plant Manager in Xianyang. He has been with the company for 29 years in various roles, and currently oversees the production of our Huafeng brand instant noodles. Shao Feng has been recognised for his contributions to the City of Xianyang – he was awarded ‘Outstanding Builder for Socialist Causes (Private Sector)’ in 2015, and ‘Model Worker’ in 2016.