COVID-19: Guidance and Support for Food Businesses

Preparing food in a kitchen with protective face masks

The spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has had substantial impacts across all sectors and most notably, hospitality. During these uncertain times, we offer support and business guidance for food businesses; new and established, to help address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To continue operating during COVID-19, many foodservice businesses have diversified into food delivery, takeaway or online sales to keep their businesses alive and thriving. There has also been an increase in cooking from home and selling food locally or online.

Our guidance promotes best practice to support food businesses to stay compliant with food hygiene and safety requirements and how to best respond and adapt to the impacts of COVID-19.

COVID-19 and Food Safety

Although it is very unlikely that COVID-19 is transmitted through food or food packaging, as a matter of good hygiene practice and health protection your commercial kitchen staff should abide by the government and NHS guidance;

Washing Hands Regularly 

Kitchen staff are strongly encouraged to wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This should be done routinely, including;

  • Before and after handling food 
  • Before handling clean cutlery, dishes, glasses, or other items to be used by the customer
  • After handling dirty or used items
  • After handling money 
  • After touching high-contact surfaces, such as door handles
  • When moving between different areas of the workplace
  • After being in a public place
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing

Social Distancing Measures

Wherever possible, social distancing of 2 metres between workers must be adhered to, both when working alongside each other in the kitchen and when customer-facing. If production lines do not permit 2 metres distancing face-to-face then working should be avoided.

Face Coverings

PPE or face coverings are recommended in some areas to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, where this is compatible with food hygiene.

Consider reducing the number of staff in the workplace by:

  • Staggering shift start and end times
  • Reducing the number of workers per shift
  • Creating a break between shifts to enable effective cleaning of the working areas

Food Hygiene Guidance

Good food hygiene is essential to make sure that the food you serve is safe to eat and especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you are setting up a food business, you need to introduce ways of working that will help you ensure hygiene standards are right from the start.

The four main areas to remember for good food hygiene are the 4Cs:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Chilling
  • Cross-contamination

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme gives businesses a rating out of 5 so that consumers can make informed decisions about where they buy their food. Ratings are a reflection of the standard of food hygiene found at the time of inspection from an environmental health officer. As a business, it is your responsibility to comply with food hygiene laws at all times to ensure food is always safe to eat.

This includes:

  • Handling of food
  • How food is stored (cold storage)
  • How food is prepared
  • Cleanliness of facilities
  • How food safety is managed

Staff Hygiene in the Kitchen

When running a delivery only kitchen or dark kitchen or any foodservice business there are additional control measures required for both employees and employers since the COVID-19 outbreak. The FSA Safe Method checklist allows business owners to assess personal hygiene and fitness to work practices in their kitchen.

This updated guidance aims to;

  • Reduce the risk of COVID-19 cases entering the workplace
  • Reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading within the workplace
  • Reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading from the workplace to the wider community
  • Reduce the impact of COVID-19 on output and production from the food industry

Changing your Business Model

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many existing food businesses have diversified and adapted their business model. Many restaurants, pubs, bars and mobile caterers have switched to food delivery, collection-only or selling food online. This has allowed them to continue to operate during the pandemic.

For food businesses to change their business model, it is important to understand the additional safety risks introduced by any changes. This guidance includes the steps you need to take to address these risks, and how to communicate these to your customers effectively.

Food Delivery Services

If you have adapted your food business to delivery-only, the orders must be delivered to consumers in a way that ensures food is safe to eat. Any food sellers providing food for public consumption must meet the appropriate legal requirements set out in EU law Regulation (EC) No 178/2002:

  • Food must be safe, fit for human consumption and not injurious to health
  • You must be able to produce information on demand regarding suppliers of food, ingredients, food-producing animals and those businesses that you have supplied with products
  • You must withdraw unsafe foods or recall if a customer has already purchased the food, and you must inform your local authorities and The Food Standards Agency
  • Under The Food Information Regulations 2014, food labelling, presentation and advertising must be clear and not misleading for customers and all allergens must be clearly stated 

Food Delivery Hygiene

Any food should be transported in sealed, heat-retaining containers and served at the optimum temperature as this prevents foreign objects from finding their way onto the food and shields the food from bacteria. 

Food that needs refrigerating must be kept cool while being transported. This may need to be packed in an insulated box with a coolant gel pack or in a cool bag. 

Selling Food Outdoors

Food businesses that have adapted their business to sell food in an outdoor location, such as outside the premises, should review and update their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures, or HACCP-based Food Safety Management System (such as Safer food, better business, or the Safe catering pack in Northern Ireland). 

You should check that you have not introduced any additional hazards which you are not controlling. Particular consideration should be given to;

  • Temperature controls during transport and service
  • Cross-contamination
  • Pest control
  • Hygiene requirements
  • Hand-washing facilities

Starting a Food Business from Home

Getting started with a home-based food business can be a challenging venture, however, the benefits are plentiful, particularly during these uncertain times;

  • Low cost
  • No limit to your creativity 
  • Flexibility: the ability to create your own working schedule 
  • Running a business from the comfort of your own home

Register as a Food Business

When you start a new food business or take over an existing business, you will need to register for free with your local authority. You should do this at least 28 days before opening.

A food business is categorised as preparing, cooking, storing, handling, distributing, supplying or selling food on a regular or organised basis. The below businesses require a licence to become a part of the food industry;

  • Restaurants, cafes and take-aways
  • Catering businesses run from home, mobile catering 
  • Food stalls, food pop-ups and food trucks

COVID-19 Workplace Risk Assessment

The coronavirus is a new risk that must be incorporated into workplace risk assessments. Food business operators must therefore carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment if they have not already done so. This will enable employers to mitigate and manage the potential risks posed by the COVID-19 virus for their employees and their businesses. 

The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance to help employers conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment.

It is vital that employers play their part by;

  • Reducing risk to an acceptable level through implementing the recommendations in this and other relevant guidance that applies to their workplace
  • Encouraging and enabling workers to follow any advice to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation

The NHS Test and Trace service is key to helping manage the risk of COVID-19 spreading further in the community and workplaces. You must take steps to enable your staff to comply with the requirements of this service.

Foodservice businesses that remain open during national lockdowns must follow further regulations to make their premises COVID-secure;

  • Employers must not knowingly require or encourage someone who is being required to self-isolate to come to work
  • Businesses must remind staff and customers to wear face coverings where mandated
by Dephna

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