27 March 2020
The Food Standards Agency has published guidance to assist food businesses in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak
It is very unlikely that you can catch coronavirus from food.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging.
Any food handler who is unwell should not be at work. If they have symptoms, they should follow government advice and stay at home.
Although it is very unlikely that coronavirus is transmitted through food, as a matter of good hygiene practice anyone handling food should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This should be done as a matter of routine, before and after handling food, and especially after being in a public place, blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing.
Food business operators should continue to follow Food Standard Agency (FSA) guidance on good hygiene practices in food preparation and their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) processes.
You should consider measures to allow safe privileged access to supermarkets and food businesses for the elderly and essential workers such as NHS staff.
Food hygiene guidance
A Food Safety Management System (FSMS) that includes existing food hygiene guidance and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) processes should be followed.
Employers should stress the importance of more frequent handwashing and maintaining good hygiene practices in food preparation and handling areas. Employees should wash their hands for 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.
Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products. Food businesses can refer to the FSA’s safe catering guidance.
Businesses can help reduce the spread of coronavirus by reminding everyone of the government’s public health advice. Posters, leaflets and other materials are available online.
The World Health Organization advises that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low. The risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also very low.
While food packaging is not known to present a specific risk, efforts should be made to ensure it is cleaned and handled in line with usual food safety practices.
Cleaning should be in line with food hygiene practice and the environmental controls set out in the business’ HACCP. Staff should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working. No additional precautions need to be taken.
Cleaning and waste disposal
The government has provided guidance on cleaning and waste disposal to help businesses reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Managing employee sickness
If anyone becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature in the business or workplace they should be sent home and advised to follow the stay at home guidance. If you or an employee are experiencing symptoms, they can call NHS 111. In an emergency, call 999 if they are seriously ill or injured, or their life is at risk. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.
If a member of staff has helped someone who was taken unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell with symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection.
It is not necessary to close the business or workplace or send any staff home, unless government policy changes. You should keep monitoring the government response to coronavirus for further updates.
The FSA’s fitness for work guidance for staff who handle food products provides advice on managing sickness in a food business - download Fitness to Work: Food handlers (PDF, 125K). Understanding this guidance and applying it on both a personal and business level can help to prevent the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The FSA has produced specific guidelines on how to maintain social distancing in food business settings.
First published 26 March 2020