7-point plan for dealing with the threat of Coronavirus in a catering premises

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.

Guidance

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:

  1. Follow the guidance of the UK Government (Gov.uk or equivalent region)
  2. Follow the advice of your Local Authority Environmental Health team (EHO)
  3. Follow the advice of The Foods Standards Agency (food.gov.uk)
  4. Follow the advice of your professional body or trade association (for example NDNA)

Physical measures

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?

Hand hygiene

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.

Cleaning

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.

Illness reporting

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.

Important Links

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) linked to food?

COVID-19 is NOT generally associated with food, nor does it produce food poisoning like symptoms. We have however included it in our online food safety courses for two important reasons. Firstly, most practical measures used to destroy existing food poisoning viruses on surfaces can also be applied to tackling COVID-19. And secondly, Coronavirus will have a lasting effect on how we all work, socialise and consume food, so it’s important as an industry that we understand the threat and adapt the way we work to reduce the threats to ourselves, our customers, and the future of the sector.

Government & FSA guidance is currently the best way forward for you to understand how this new virus and your business can operate safely together.


Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

How does coronavirus (COVID-19) spread?

Like many pathogenic viruses, Coronavirus spreads person-to-person through airborne particles produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and when contaminated hands touch and thus contaminate other objects. Research suggests that Coronavirus can survive for up to several days on some of the most common materials and surfaces used in food premises:

  • Coronavirus can survive airborne for up to a few hours
  • Coronavirus can survive on cardboard packaging for around 24 hours
  • Coronavirus can survive on plastic packaging for up to 3 days
  • Coronavirus can survive on stainless steel for up to 7 days

Do I need a food hygiene certificate?

There is no one simple answer to the question, ‘Do I need a Food Hygiene Certificate’ – but we can certainly help find the right answer for you.

If you are responsible for managing food safety in a business – for example, a supervisor, manager or business owner – you must be suitably trained to ensure you can put correct procedures in place and see they are carried out. You must also ensure that your team is appropriately trained in food hygiene and safety, including allergens.

If you are someone who works with food, you must be trained to a suitable level for your role, in food hygiene and safety, including allergens.

But – what is suitable or appropriate training?

The Food Standards Agency define training as:

  • training while working
  • self-study
  • relevant previous experience

So, technically, neither a supervisor nor their team requires a food hygiene certificate to operate safely and satisfactorily. However, it is worth bearing in mind that training is a key area that your EHO will look into, and it is very likely that any inspection will include a number of questions both to management and team members to satisfy the inspector that good food safety is understood and carried out. For that reason, it is good practice for all food handlers and managers to regularly undertake regulated food hygiene training and to renew on a regular basis.

For supervisors, managers, and anyone else who oversees activities and staff and is responsible for introducing and maintaining procedures and processes, it is important that training includes management level skills, for example creating and using a Food Safety Management system. In general in the UK these would be Level 3 courses – although it is always important to check the syllabus of any course you undertake, to ensure you cover all the important elements.

For food handlers – including chef, cooks, anyone in food prep and front of house staff – a Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate should cover day to day needs – although again, we would always recommend checking the syllabus of any course before you sign up. A Level 3 Certificate would be a good way to increase skills and knowledge and demonstrate readiness to take the next step into management

For anyone who doesn’t directly handle food, but an understanding of food safety is important, a Level 1 Food Hygiene Certificate can provide the basic level of training required. This training might be useful for someone making food deliveries, or a kitchen porter.

When does my food hygiene certificate expire?

For all regulated food training, we would recommend retaking the course every 3 years. As well as refreshing knowledge, this gives the learner insight into any new practice or legislation influencing food hygiene practice introduced since their previous training.

Do volunteers need food safety training?

According to the Food Standards Agency advice on providing food at charity or community events, this depends on whether you provide food on an occasional and small scale basis – in which case you do not qualify as a food business – or on a regular and organised basis – in which case, you may need to register as a food business. In any case, food supplied at any event MUST comply with food law and be safe to eat.

If you are unsure which category you fall into, seek advice from your EHO (contactable via your local council). Don’t be afraid that this will lead to extra red tape – your EHO is there to help and advise you, and responsible planning at the outset may prevent a far more tricky situation if your food sales lead you into legal problems along the line. To give you examples – a scout group selling tea and homemade cake at an annual jumble sale is not likely to qualify as a food business, but a rugby club selling cooked bacon rolls and pies every Sunday morning probably will. The scout group should still make sure that their food and drink is fresh and kept safely, and that they have appropriate allergen information for their cakes – but they won’t need regular checks from an EHO.

All food businesses need to comply with all EU food hygiene law, including those related to food hygiene training and allergen awareness. This means that the person in charge of the event or the catering set up must ensure that anyone preparing or handling food receives ‘the appropriate supervision and training in food hygiene and food allergens, which is in-line with the area they work in and will enable them to handle food in the safest way’ (The Food Standards Agency). This can be ensured by taking accredited training – online courses are often the most cost and time effective route for volunteers, and reputable providers can advise on the correct level of training. It could also be achieved by on-the-job training and supervision by a suitable person on site. Or the volunteer themselves may already have sufficient skills and experience to allow them to undertake the role safely – the person in charge must be able to demonstrate that the skills of each volunteer have been considered and are appropriate for their role.

At the Safer Food Group, we support a number of youth organisations, sports clubs and charities with their food hygiene and allergen training requirements. Our flexible, value for money courses allow organisations to purchase courses on behalf of their volunteers, taking advantage of our bulk purchase prices and allowing learners to undertake the training at a time that fits with their busy schedules.