Making Safety A Priority During Events
After a year of scheduling in-person gatherings largely on hold, many dairy industry organizations recently have resumed in-person contests, trade shows, networking opportunities and other events. While these events bring a sense of normalcy, the hosting organizations also face a “new normal” that requires balancing face-to-face opportunities for members and attendees with prudent health and safety measures.
The American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI) is planning to host two live events in Reno, Nevada, Oct. 25-28 — the ADPI Dairy Ingredients Technology Symposium and the Global Cheese Technology Forum — during its “Dairy Technology Week in Reno.”
Earlier this week, ADPI released its amended attendance guidelines for hosted events and activities. ADPI outlines that attendance to all direct-facing events and activities shall be open to those who have been properly vaccinated, or those who have not been vaccinated but can provide proper documentation of having received a negative COVID-19 test within three days of their arrival to the event. All attendees also will agree to comply with the masking and social distancing protocols in effect at the venue or event site.
“We believe that our attendance requirements broadly sync with both in-person interaction and the health and safety protocols as recommended by the health officials/experts at this point in time,” says Blake Anderson, president and CEO, ADPI.
He says the reason ADPI published its guidelines is that, up to now, there has been a void in “common industry practices” as the pandemic and its impacts have been very different depending on locations, venues and vaccination trends.
“We all initially thought that by now the original COVID-19 pandemic would be more under control and on the wane, and then along came the delta variant and reset everyone’s expectations,” Anderson says. “COVID-19 is called a ‘novel virus’ for good reason, and we all need to keep that top-of-mind as we deal with it.”
ADPI developed its event guidelines with the input of its board of directors as well as feedback from other various ADPI members-at-large. Anderson says feedback for the most part has been extremely positive, and ADPI feels its guidelines are fair, equitable and easily complied with.
“We have a very diverse membership base encompassing processors, producers, sellers, marketers, equipment and service providers in and to the industry, and as such enjoy the benefit of broad and strategic thinking on such matters and their impacts,” Anderson says. “ADPI is an organization of, for and by members, and the same is reflected in our guidelines.”
He adds, “A critical component of our guidelines is that people know what is expected and can assess their abilities to comply in advance. If for some reason compliance is not possible for any number of reasons, we are providing options to enable them to still participate and benefit from the experience, i.e., virtual attendance versus direct facing. The key is everyone will have a choice that they can make based on their own personal circumstances.”
The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has held all of its board of directors meetings virtually, using Zoom, since March 2020. Its annual meeting last October also was virtual. However, NMPF is planning for its November 2021 board meeting to be an in-person event.
“We will be following the public health requirements of local authorities in Las Vegas, where our November meeting is being held. Currently those guidelines require masking in public spaces; that may change based on the evolution of case rates during the fall months in Nevada,” says Chris Galen, senior vice president, member services and strategic initiatives, NMPF.
All organizations that hold meetings have learned over the past 18 months to be flexible and use different tools, while also balancing the expectations of members that certain interactions are optimized with in-person engagement, Galen adds.
“While we are hoping for a more ‘normal’ approach to meetings and events in the future, the shared experience of the past year-and-a-half is certain to require some new approaches after 2021,” he says.
All events hosted and sponsored by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) have been virtual since its in-person Dairy Forum that was held in January 2020. IDFA staff also continues to work remotely.
“As we look ahead to in-person events later this year or in early 2022, health and safety is our top priority,” says Matt Herrick, IDFA senior vice president of public affairs and communications and executive director of the IDFA Foundation. “We will continue to adhere to CDC recommendations as well as state/local guidelines and work collaboratively with our on-site partners — such as hotels and conference centers — to put health and safety first.”
The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) also has adjusted many of its events this past year, canceling its World Championship Cheese Contest in March and switching to a virtual CheeseExpo in April of this year. WCMA is offering virtual options for its upcoming Dairy Food Safety Alliance meeting Sept. 9. However, it plans to return to hosting an in-person World Championship Cheese Contest and CheeseExpo in 2022.
“We’re all eager to be together, as colleagues and as friends, once again,” says John Umhoefer, executive director, WCMA. “We are constantly reviewing public health guidance and will make determinations on safety measures for these events in the coming months. Our top priority is the health and safety of our participants, so safety guidelines for these events will evolve to match public health guidance.”
While many organizations have switched mostly or entirely to virtual events and meetings, the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association (WDPA) has continued its in-person events, though with added precautions. Executive Director Brad Legreid says the association did not make this decision lightly.
“We had hours and hours of discussion, planning and studying COVID regulations, not only in the county and state, but also federal guidelines,” he says. “Between our staff and board of directors, we came to the conclusion that what was best for our members was to hold safe events this last year.”
Since it was safer to be outdoors and golf courses remained open, WDPA held a golf outing in September 2020, providing face masks and individual hand sanitizer bottles to all participants. A month later, instead of its traditional Dairy Symposium, WDPA hosted an outdoor evening reception along with a golf outing in Door County, Wisconsin. Hand sanitizer, masks and social distancing again were provided and encouraged.
After COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions relaxed this spring, WDPA this year continued to host its golf outing and traditional Dairy Symposium and saw record turnouts. It also resumed hosting the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest, and judging took place last month while following face masking and social distancing requirements in Madison, Wisconsin.
Legreid notes that WDPA’s decision to continue holding in-person events with extra safety precautions was driven by its members’ desire to meet face-to-face. He adds that each organization must do what works best for them and their members, and different approaches are just as respected.
“As you know, the dairy industry is a very social industry,” he says. “We take it very seriously. When we do hold an event, and it’s successful, and we see smiles, hear laughter and can see each other again, it makes it all worth it.”
Without question, the dairy ingredients and related products industry is “people-centric,” focused on relationships and trust, Anderson says. He adds that ADPI pivoted to virtual events over the last year-and-a-half rather than canceling them because members needed to remain connected and informed.
“It is critically important to all of us to resume in-person meetings to enable relationships to be built and developed,” he says. “Our businesses did not stop, but it did take on many different dimensions in facing and adapting to ‘pandemic’ times and challenges. If we in the dairy products industry are nothing else, we are resilient!”
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Source: Cheese Makers News