The key to defeating the threat of all pathogenic viruses is to break the chain of contamination. And this strategy applies as much to tackling Coronavirus in small catering premises as it does to governments dealing with the threat globally.
Clearly Coronavirus represents a real, and in all likelihood, a sustained threat. It’s quickly become the biggest topic of conversation online, in the media, and in the park (standing a safe distance apart), resulting in huge amounts of information circulating. It hopefully goes without saying that the vast majority of this is inaccurate and misleading speculation and opinion. Rather than following the opinions of certain presidents or other uninformed reality stars, we recommend you prioritise advice from the following sources, and in the order its listed:
- Follow the guidance of the UK Government (Gov.uk or equivalent region)
- Follow the advice of your Local Authority Environmental Health team (EHO)
- Follow the advice of The Foods Standards Agency (food.gov.uk)
- Follow the advice of your professional body or trade association (for example NDNA)
The catering industry has for a long time used physical barriers, for example, plexiglass screens, to reduce contamination and protect food. Every food premises now needs to consider their increased use in applying social distancing between individual customers, between individual Food Handlers, and between the two. PPE including masks and visors are all generally recommended subject to a risk and needs assessment. It’s important that all catering premises that involve attendance by the public implement appropriate efforts to promote and support social distancing, including posters, limiting the numbers inside premises, floor marking, stewarding (staff allocated to control at busy times), and consider leaving doors open to help circulate air and minimise contact points. Can customers be served outside or via delivery to prevent the need to enter the premises at all?
Washing your hands regularly using the approved hand-hygiene technique explained in TSFG’s food hygiene courses is crucial to prevent the spread of pathogenic viruses. Wash your hands immediately on arrival at work, between changing food handling tasks, and after breaks, touching deliveries, cleaning, and coughing or sneezing into them. Coronavirus is destroyed by detergents, in other words ordinary soap, which breaks down the protein shell of the virus destroying it in the process. Hand-sanitisers that contain +70% alcohol content have also proved effective against Coronavirus in tests.
What works: Detergent (soap) and hot water, hand sanitiser +70% alcohol.
Not effective: Antibacterial wipes, antiseptic wipes, disinfectants.
Following your approved premises cleaning schedule has a vital role in breaking the chain of contamination. Pay particular attention to cleaning and sanitising door and cupboard handles and push plates. Detergent (physical effort and hot water) remains one of the only effective approved chemicals for a food premises. (Household bleach and surgical spirit have also proven effective in destroying Coronavirus, however neither are currently approved for general sanitising use in UK catering premises).
What works: Detergent (soap) and hot water.
Not effective: Disinfectant, antibacterial wipes, antiseptic wipes.
Food handlers have always had a professional and legal responsibility to report illness to their supervisor before attending work. In general food safety terms this included any food poisoning like symptoms and a list of communicable diseases. Coronavirus has increased these measures dramatically, so make sure you also follow the latest government (gov.uk published) advice on COVID-19 symptoms and isolation in addition to your previous illness reporting obligations.
Zoning & workflow
Social distancing at work is likely to require some rethinking of how you produce and serve or distribute food. Zoning and Workflow are food industry terms that refer to the logical planning and sequencing of food production tasks, and allocating dedicated work spaces for certain tasks. The idea is to minimise cross-contamination and time the food spends in the Danger Zone. Given that the rules around social distancing are likely to be in place for some time, it’s important that your layout and plan are reassessed to ensure they are still fit-for-purpose.
Training & teamwork
Behind every successful food business and every unblemished food safety record is a team effort. Make sure you’ve received up to date training and you’re doing the basics such as coughing or sneezing into the elbow (aka the Dracula), as well as any changes to your role and how it must now be performed during the threat of this pandemic. It’s important that the food industry thinks creatively to find practical solutions to the challenge of Coronavirus, and every Food Handler can and must play their part by working by participating in training, contributing ideas, raising concerns, and working together.