Please remember that the advice offered here is based on current scientific understanding of the Covid-19 virus and in line with most up to date advice from the government and Public Health England. Although we will provide regular updates, you are advised to monitor the government’s website at www.gov.uk/coronavirus for up to the minute advice, guidance and changes to the lockdown restrictions.
Introduction to the Virtual Food Forum for May 2020
Useful food safety resources
- Food Forum March 2020: Allergens - Are You Ready? (PowerPoint Presentation)
- A General Update from the Food Safety Team (PowerPoint Presentation)
- Talking With Your Workers About Preventing Coronavirus (PDF)
- Working Safely During the Coronavirus Outbreak - A Short Guide (PDF)
- Covid-19 - Working Safely in Restaurants Offering Takeaway or Delivery (PDF)
- Social Distancing Guidelines for Businessses Still Trading (PDF)
- Covid-19 Example Workplace Risk Assessment (DOCX)
- Allergen Control Checklist (PDF)
- Allergen Matrix (PDF)
- Allergen Signage (PDF)
- Hidden Allergens in Ingredients (PDF, 115KB)
Food forum frequently asked questions
Yes, you are permitted to diversify your business which includes adapting from being an eat-in only establishment to offering takeaway and delivery meals. In doing so, you have a legal obligation to ensure that the foods that you are serving is safe, and that you are applying Covid-19 control measures to protect you, your staff and your customers.
Things that you might need to consider when offering delivery include:
- Taking an order
- Hygiene guidance for food delivery
- Allergen guidance for food delivery
- Delivering food orders
- Delivery vehicles
Hygiene guidance is available on the FSA website: https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/food-safety-for-food-delivery
The laws in place don’t prevent people from collecting essential supplies such as food, although the public are asked to make these trips as infrequently as possible.
For this reason, we would encourage you to offer a delivery option wherever possible, adhering to social distancing, providing your delivery staff with clear instructions on steps they can take to keep themselves and your customers safe.
If you are continuing to allow customers on your premises then you must make sure you’ve considered how you can do this safely e.g. limiting number of customers entering a shop, increasing signage with instructions for customers to follow, avoid handling cash, mark out 2m distances to influence customers to keep their distance.
You need to document any new food safety considerations and any new controls that you’ve introduced. This could include some simple instructions for staff to follow (see our Guidelines on Social Distancing (PDF, 875KB)). Document any training and instructions that you have given to staff.
The government are leading the response and recovery to the pandemic situation and we need to keep focussed on the advice that they’re giving. Currently, legislation is in place which prevents certain types of trade which includes pubs, restaurants and cafes where people could congregate. These types of businesses are permitted to diversify and offer takeaway and delivery of food*.
(*For deliveries of alcohol, the business must check with the Licensing department to ensure that this activity is covered by your current Licence.)
The team will be keeping a close eye on the government position and will be using our usual communication channels to keep local businesses up to date.
If you’d like to be on our mailing list for updates then please send your business name and address, together with your up to date email address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will ensure that you are included on future email updates.
There’s a lot of media attention and confusion over the use of protective masks, gloves etc.
The first and most crucial steps in preventing the spread of infection are:
- Hand washing
- Social distancing of 2m
Other measures can enhance controls but only if they are to the right standard and used correctly.
We constantly see gloves being misused. If you are wearing gloves to control the spread of infection, then be mindful to remove then once they have become contaminated – don’t move onto the next task without removing them/replacing them.
The quality standards for PPE are described in this HSE document: https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/assets/docs/face-mask-equivalence-aprons-gown-eye-protection.pdf
This describes the required standard for aprons, gowns and eye protection. Usually it requires compliance with the relevant British Standard
Homemade masks are unlikely to meet the required standards. This could mean that their use actually increase the risk because people may put themselves in exposure situations because they believe themselves to be protected when in reality, they have no protection.
There has recently been a shift in the way the government refers to face masks for situation outside hospitals or similar clinical situations. You might have already heard reference to “face coverings” as well as face masks. There is already a national supply problem for quality facemasks for care staff and the NHS, so the government is trying to maintain the supply by ensuring the message to everyone is only use facemasks if absolutely necessary.
There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms.
It is also important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small, therefore face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including:
- Minimising time spent in contact
- Using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work
- Increasing hand and surface washing
These measures remain the best ways of managing risk in the workplace and government would therefore not expect to see employers relying on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their health and safety assessments.
A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible, like in a small kitchen where applying the 2m rule may not be possible.
A face covering just needs to cover your mouth and nose. It is not the same as a face mask, such as the surgical masks or respirators used by health and care workers. Similarly, face coverings are not the same as the personal protective equipment (PPE) used to manage risks like dust and spray in an industrial context.
It is important to add that supplies of PPE, including face masks, must continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards.
More information on how to wear a face covering, and how to make one is available on GOV.UK:
Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. If you choose to wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.
This means telling workers:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it
- When wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands
- Change your face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
- Continue to wash your hands regularly
- Change and wash your face covering daily
- If the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your usual waste
- Practise social distancing wherever possible
You must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible.
Social distancing applies to your staff as well as your customers to protect their health, safety and welfare. We understand that this could present a challenge in smaller kitchens but you must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of transmission between staff. We have listed below some practical steps that you can take to manage social distancing with staff.
- Allowing kitchen access to as few people as possible.
- Rearranging kitchen areas so that staff can work in their own workspace with all equipment accessible within their stations
- Minimising interaction between kitchen staff and other workers, including when on breaks.
- Putting teams into shifts to restrict the number of workers interacting with each other.
- Spacing workstations 2m apart as much as possible, recognising the difficulty of moving equipment such as sinks, hobs and ovens.
- Consider cleanable panels to separate workstations in larger kitchens.
- Providing floor marking to signal distances of 2m apart.
- Consider providing staff with face coverings (but please bear in mind the the above comments on the use of face covering)
- Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible.
- Using ‘one way’ traffic flows within the kitchen to minimise contact.
- Minimising access to walk-in pantries, fridges and freezers, for example, with only one person being able to access these areas at one point in time.
- Minimising contact at ‘handover’ points with other staff, such as when receiving deliveries or passing food to serving staff
- Further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning using chemicals that are effective against Covid-19.
- Provide staff with suitable alcohol based hand gels (70% alcohol)
Disposable clothing, likes gloves and aprons, are designed to be single use so once potentially contaminated with the virus or other bacteria and germs then they need to be discarded.
Viruses are different to bacteria and the antibacterial chemicals that you usually use might not be effective at killing viruses in the same way that they kill bacteria.
You may have become familiar with the code BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697 that are discussed during your food hygiene inspections. Unfortunately, disinfectants that meet this standard do not guarantee protection from Covid-19.
Disinfectants that comply with the standard known as BS EN 14476 are the ones that will be effective against viruses within the “coronavirus” family.
If you are struggling to get hold of cleaning products that are compliant with BS EN 14476, thick bleach when used at a strength of 1000ppm can be used to kill traces of the virus lingering on surfaces. To work out how to dilute a bleach product to the required strength, you can use the dilution calculator at the following web link: https://grimedoesntpay.com/bleach-dilution-calculator/. Combine the required amount of water in a spray bottle with the required amount of bleach, mix well and use to disinfectant surfaces.
The World Health Organisation have reported that products based on hydrogen peroxide, peracetic acid or sodium hypochlorite (bleach) are all effective against the coronavirus “family” as are solutions containing greater than 70% alcohol when used at the right dilution and correctly.
Please note: Your disinfection routine for Covid-19 will be different to your disinfection routine for food preparation in your kitchen.
You should continue to use your antibacterial products that conform to the usual advertised standards of BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697 for food preparation surfaces to kill bacteria usually associated with raw food preparation (E.coli 0157 risks associated with raw meat and vegetables etc)
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places a duty on every employer to ensure that they consider and control workplace hazards that could affect the health, safety and welfare of their staff and customers. Businesses will now need to ensure that they have extended their existing risk assessments to cover the hazard of Covid-19 transmission.
If you have more than 5 employees, you must document the findings of your risk assessment. There are various templates that are available to help you with this and you may find the following links helpful in preparing your own risk assessment:
It is really important to ensure that any risk assessment used is tailored specifically to your business and staff. Do not use an example assessment and just assume it fits your business.
The government has released a number of guidance documents around working safely during coronavrisu (Covid-19) that you may find helpful.
The document specifically aimed at food establishments offering takeaway or delivery is as follows:
The council’s Environmental Health team is also here to support you. You cn contact us by email at email@example.com or by telep[hone on 01524 582935.
Contactless payments are definitely preferred at this time to the handling of cash. This is because there is a chance that cash could be contaminated with the virus … and other bacteria and germs!
However, we appreciate that not everyone, businesses and customers, are in a position to pay with cash. Wherever possible, promote contactless payments (either in advance online or using a contactless card terminal at the shop). If cash is handled then staff must wash their hands immediately after to remove any risk of spread of the virus, and bacteria that could be on the surface of the cash.
You should treat any cash taken as potentially contaminated with Covid19 virus and treat it accordingly. The new bank notes in circulation are made from a plastic and therefore one option is to separate any cash taken during the day’s trading and spraying with a suitable sanitiser. This will help kill off any active virus contamination. Alternatively you can store the cash for 72 hours before handling it. But remember, for security and safety reasons you are not encouraged to keep large amounts of cash on site and should bank it as soon as possible.
The problem with long term storage of frozen foods is that the quality will begin to deteriorate so we would suggest as a rule of thumb that you don’t give any more than 3 months shelf life to frozen foods.
Freezing acts as a ‘pause button’ on the expiry date of foods as bacteria will not grow at these temperatures. They remain in the product but they do not grow.
If freezing down food, then you must:
- Ensure that the food is in an acceptable condition and suitable for freezing at the point it’s frozen down (e.g. as indicated by manufacturer’s instructions)
- Cover food that is going to be frozen to prevent freezer burn
- Ensure the food is frozen all of the way through to the core
- For food carrying a ‘Use By’ date, demonstrate that the food was frozen early enough to ensure that that the food was frozen at midnight of the day of the expiry of the ‘Use By’ date
- Label the food with the date of freezing – this will help determine how quickly the food should be used once defrosted e.g. frozen 3 days before use by date, must be used within three days of defrost.
It is not a legal requirement for food handlers working in a food business to wear gloves, and unless used correctly, they can cause more hygiene problems than you might think they solve.
There is no substitute for effective hand washing at the appropriate times. You tend to find that when people wear gloves, they touch all sorts of things besides the food that they’re preparing leading to cross contamination issues.
If using gloves:
- Food handlers must wash their hands before putting gloves on (to avoid contaminating the surface of the gloves)
- Often when wearing gloves, hands will sweat which means that it’s equally important to wash hands after taking gloves off
- Food handlers must wash their hands between changing gloves
- Food handlers must not multi task when wearing gloves as this may result in cross contamination
- Be aware of employee sensitivity to latex and powder in gloves
Gloves do have their place and sometimes people opt to use them when touching ready to eat foods (because there appears to be a consumer conception that “gloves are more hygienic”) but this is not necessary and an officer would never require this. An officer would however expect a food handler to be hand washing:
- When entering the kitchen – when starting work, after going for a break or going to the toilet
- Before handling food, especially ready to eat foods
- After touching raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs or unwashed vegetables
- After touching or emptying bins
- After any cleaning
- After touching a cut or changing a dressing
- After touching their face
- Before beginning to prepare an allergen free meal
- After having a cigarette or eating
- After coughing or blowing your nose
It is also worth noting that alcohol gels are are not a suitable substitute for hand washing. They are good in addition to hand washing but the alcohol can only work to kill bacteria on a clean hand surface.
The enhanced allergen labelling requirements which are due to come into force in October 2021 will only be for businesses that pre-pack food for display which hasn’t already been ordered or custom made. For businesses that prepare food orders which are then placed in a box or tray for delivery, the labelling requirements will remain the same as they are currently (very minimal).
Examples of foods that will require full ingredient labelling with the allergens emphasised:
- A catering outlet that makes sandwiches and puts them in clingfilm or in a sandwich box ready for a lunchtime rush
- A pie shop having wrapped pies in a chilled cabinet ready to be sold
- Roast chicken placed into a sealed bag or box before the consumer has ordered it
It is worth adding that if you prepare a specific product for a customer with an allergy or intolerance on a food that is due for delivery, you should identify the food that has been made for that specific request (e.g. clearly marked as “GLUTEN FREE”) to avoid any confusion.
There is no legal requirement that requires food handlers to wear hats. The legal requirement is to “protect food from contamination”. In order to satisfy this requirement, it is recommended that food handlers wear hats that prevent hair from getting into the food. As a minimum, officers (and customers!) would expect to see that long hair is neatly tied back.
In you ever receive a complaint of hair in food, you will need to consider how it might have happened and if there is anything further you can do to stop hair from getting into food. If you receive a complaint about hair in food from a customer and your staff don’t wear hats then it would be wise for you to review this and introduce some kind of headwear to prevent a similar incident. If you introduce rules for your staff to follow, make sure that they are following them.
Allergens – are front of house staff required to proactively ask if customers have allergies/intolerances ?
It is becoming increasingly common for this question to be asked by front of house staff when consumers are ordering a meal. Although not legally required, it would be considered as best practice. It will stop customers from trying to guess what allergens are in your food.
The law requires you to provide customers with accurate and up to date allergen information. You are required to signpost them to where they can get this information – this could be via a prompt on your menu, a signpost in your customer area, you may tell customers directly, or you may decide to use a combination of these.
The important thing is to make it clear to customers how they can get allergen information if they need it and that you then provide them with accurate information should they ask for it.
I am telling customers that I can’t guarantee that a meal will be completely allergen free due to cross contamination in the kitchen, but the customer is still happy to proceed. If I serve a meal and the customer suffers an allergic reaction, will I held be responsibility?
The important thing is that you provide customers with accurate and up to date information. If your allergen risk assessment determines that you cannot guarantee that every trace of the allergen might be removed during preparation, but the allergen isn’t an ingredient of the food they are ordering, then let the customer know this information. Once you have provided accurate information, it is then for the customer to make an informed decision based upon their understanding of their own allergy or intolerance. If they then choose to proceed, it is recommended that you make a note in your food safety management diary to confirm the advice that you gave and that you could not guarantee the meal was allergen free.
A lot of questions were asked about allergen management. It is difficult to advise generally about individual circumstances. I would encourage anyone who wants an officer to visit your premises to undertake an allergen audit to review your processes in detail, to review that your systems are sufficient to manage the risk of allergens, to please contact us.
You may also be interested in attending our Level 2 Food Allergen Awareness and Control in Catering course. The cost of this course if £49. We have found this most beneficial when a member of the kitchen team and a member of the front of house team attend. These courses will be available in due course once the relevant government Covid19 restrictions have been lifted.
In the mean time there is a free online allergens course available via the Food Standards Agency website that you and your staff may wish to access and complete: https://allergytraining.food.gov.uk/english/
The key point to reinforce is to ensure that accurate and up to date information is always provided to the consumer.
If you have any further questions then please contact the Food Safety team at firstname.lastname@example.org.