NZDF Ensures Country’s Food Chain Is Fighting Fit

7 April 2020

The New Zealand Defence Force has run the military rule over a major supermarket chain’s distribution centre to ensure it, and others, are fit to fight the COVID-19 battle.

Countdown’s Palmerston North Distribution Centre and one of its supermarkets were recently checked by an NZDF Environmental Health team, which forms part of the All of Government COVID-19 response, to ensure that despite the current pandemic, the supply chain remains strong and the stores are as safe as possible to work and shop. 

“Throughout its history, the NZDF has had to ensure a robust supply chain in war zones and disaster areas. These lessons can be applied to the COVID-19 situation and help ensure New Zealanders can be confident in their food supplies,” says Lieutenant Dan Hirst, Force Health Protection Officer.

"We looked at the store and distribution centre’s health, hygiene and safety procedures and their ability to notify and respond appropriately if a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

“We also looked at how staff could work in a way that best meets the Ministry of Health and Ministry for Primary Industries recommendations. This included changing some work practices or adjusting how services were delivered to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to both staff and shoppers.

“Supermarkets’ supply chains were put under extreme strain by the demand as the country went into lockdown. These sorts of checks are an important way we can give Kiwis assurance that our essential food supply services are doing everything they can to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to the wider community.”

New Zealand Food Safety (part of the Ministry for Primary Industries) shared the NZDF team’s report and recommendations with other organisations in the food distribution industry.

“New Zealand has an enviable food safety system that protects consumers at home and around the world,” says New Zealand Food Safety’s Director of Food Regulation, Paul Dansted.

“The NZDF was able to step in at short notice and ensure the health and safety of the people working behind-the-scenes and in-store, and provide assurances these workers’ valuable contributions keeps food on the shelves for all New Zealanders in these extraordinary times,” says Mr Dansted.

Countdown says its COVID-19 response plan has been hugely important.

“Having the expertise of the NZDF team to check that our plan is watertight gives both our business and Kiwis confidence that we can continue to deliver food throughout New Zealand,” says General Manager Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability Kiri Hannifin.

“It also provided our team reassurance that our systems will keep them and New Zealand communities safe.  I am incredibly grateful to the NZDF for their support.”

Businesses looking for similar help can engage local council or commercial environmental health services to audit their operations.

This page was last reviewed on 11 May 2020.