COVID-19: Current challenges facing food businesses

Food businesses are identifying innovative ways to allow them to continue to trade. In doing so, they must maintain compliance with their legal obligations.

05 May 2020

COVID-19 has had a major impact on most food businesses. Some are thriving, some are in lockdown and others are making significant changes to the way in which they reach customers in order to continue trading. In almost all cases, businesses are having to adopt new ways of working in order to manage both existing and COVID-19 related risks.

Food businesses must continue to adhere to their legal duties, such as an employer’s duty to protect their employees’ health and safety and the health and safety of customers, including in relation to food safety and hygiene regulations. At the same time, food businesses must also abide by the government’s current restrictions. To support food businesses in their efforts to comply with their legal requirements and adapt to the restrictions, both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) have published separate guidance to assist with managing risk and ensuring food businesses trade safely during this time.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Due to a wide demand for PPE across the country, there is a shortage in the supply chain and this is likely to impact on a range of food businesses. To manage this risk, the HSE is encouraging businesses to adopt good working practices where this might be a particular issue (e.g. in bakeries where flour dust is a potential problem) and have good local exhaust ventilation.

Employers across the whole of the food industry are encouraged to minimise the use of PPE in an effort to preserve stock. Only workers who need PPE should have it and employers should be assigning the correct type of PPE to workers. For example, a person who has a low exposure to flour dust does not need an APF of 20, and employers should ensure that workers are maximising the PPE’s lifespan.

Food delivery and takeaway

In response to COVID-19 the government has relaxed planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways for the next 12 months and there has been a big rise in the number of food businesses offering food delivery and collection services as a result. Food businesses, especially those which are offering these services for the first time, need to be aware of all the relevant food and safety regulations and guidance.

One area of particular concern is that of allergen labelling and information. When taking food orders over the phone, employees will need to be aware that they should ask the customer if they have any food allergies, communicate this to the kitchen and label the meal with appropriate allergen information. Food businesses also need to clearly indicate on their website where foods contain one of the 14 notifiable allergens and/or notify customers that they should speak to a member of staff about allergies and intolerances.

Food should be placed in clean, disposable containers, which are suitable for food use. To adhere to the rules of social distancing, drivers should drop off the food on the customer’s doorstep, and step back while the customer retrieves the food. Delivery bags should be cleaned and disinfected at the beginning of each day and throughout the day. Employers need to ensure their drivers are insured for business use, have a valid driver’s licence, MOT and the correct tax for the vehicle, and that the rules on drivers’ hours are followed, which have been temporarily relaxed by the government at this time.

For food collection services, customers should be encouraged to wash their hands on arrival, and offered hand sanitizer. To maintain social distancing, there should be a ‘one in one out’ policy, allocated food collection times and a specified area to pass the food to the customer. It is advised to place a notice explaining the collection procedure at the front of house.

Hygiene

Hand washing has always been a strict standard to meet to achieve food safety compliance, and now is the time to remind workers of the importance of regular hand washing and the essential contribution it makes in maintaining the health and safety of food, staff and customers. Employers must provide basins with warm running water, anti-bacterial soap and paper towels. Drivers, by handling food, must receive an introduction into personal hygiene, health and safety, food handling, and reporting illness and this training should be recorded. Drivers also need to wash or sanitise their hands before and after collecting food, before and after delivering food, and be provided with a hand sanitiser with an alcohol content of at least 60%. COVID-19 has seen the introduction of rules requiring workers to stay 2 metres away from each other at all times (including breaks). This may involve businesses rearranging workstations and putting down floor markings. It is worth reminding employees that not only do workstations and surfaces need to be cleaned and sanitised regularly, other equipment such as light switches, door handles and taps also require a heightened hygiene process. Sanitisers must comply with BS EN 1276, as laid down by the Food Standards Agency’s guidance.

Food safety

Food businesses need to consider if an update to their food safety management systems and procedures is required. This will be necessary if any food handling processes have changed; for example, if a food reheating procedure has now been adopted within the business. Food businesses will need to update both their procedures and their employees on any changes in order to ensure they have clear evidence that food safety risks have been considered and addressed. Employees also need to be reminded that raw and cooked foods need to be packed correctly to avoid cross-contamination.

For delivery, the delivery bag should have the appropriate insulation to keep the food at its required temperature, for hot food this is above 63 degrees Celsius, and for cold food, this is 8 degrees Celsius or below. To maintain the heat within the food, it is advised to keep the delivery distance short; a maximum of a 30-minute radius for deliveries is recommended.

It is a challenging time for the food industry. Food business continuity is essential but it is also vital to ensure that this is done safely for staff and consumers. The guidance from the HSE and CIEH are an excellent starting point for businesses but as this is a rapidly evolving situation it is important to ensure that they keep themselves updated on developments.

Full details of the guidance can be found here:

If you would like further advice on any of the issues discussed above, please contact Sian Edmunds or your usual Burges Salmon contact.

Key contact

Sian Edmunds

Sian Edmunds Partner

  • Head of Food and Drink
  • Food and Farming
  • Estates and Land
  • Product Liability

Subscribe to news and insight

Burges Salmon careers

We work hard to make sure Burges Salmon is a great place to work.
Find out more