Coronavirus: Considerations for food businesses operating during COVID-19

17th April 2020

From 20 March, UK pubs, restaurants and cafes have been closed as part of the government response to COVID-19. In an effort to stay afloat many food businesses are looking to diversify, with some offering takeaway and pick up services for the first time. Laura Shirley and Natascha Gaut, food safety lawyers in our EHS team consider the additional food hygiene hazards and issues this may present


Are food deliveries safe during the coronavirus pandemic?

The good news for food businesses is that the virus is not thought to be transmitted by food itself. There is no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus. The FSA states that “it is very unlikely that people can catch COVID-19 from food. Covid-19 is a respiratory illness and not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging”. Whilst restaurants cannot be open, this does not mean they cannot operate at all, and many businesses are adapting their trading operations in response to the pandemic.

The Government has announced a relaxation of planning rules to assist pubs and restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic.

For the next 12 months registered food businesses are permitted to operate as a food takeaway, but you will need to notify your local authority before doing so.

What information do we need to provide when taking orders?

If you are providing an online menu for the first time, you must make sure it’s clear what you’re selling, the quantity, the price (including VAT and delivery charges), and all relevant allergen information.

If food is sold online or over telephone through distance selling, allergen information must be provided at two stages in the order process.

You must provide allergen information:

− before the purchase of the food is completed - this can be in writing (on a website or menu) or orally (by phone)

− when the food is delivered - this can be in writing (allergen stickers on food or an enclosed hard copy of a menu) or orally (by a delivery driver)

You will need to ensure that staff are aware of how to take orders with specific allergy requirements over the phone or online. We would recommend that staff are provided with clear written allergen information to refer to, so that they can respond accurately to allergy requests when taking orders. By law you are required to provide information in respect of 14 listed allergens.

What food hygiene considerations arise from operating as a food takeaway?

The Government has announced a relaxation of planning rules to assist pubs and restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. For the next 12 months registered food businesses are permitted to operate as a food takeaway, but you will need to notify your local authority before doing so.

What information do we need to provide when taking orders?

If you are providing an online menu for the first time, you must make sure it’s clear what you’re selling, the quantity, the price (including VAT and delivery charges), and all relevant allergen information.

If food is sold online or over telephone through distance selling, allergen information must be provided at two stages in the order process.

You must provide allergen information:

− before the purchase of the food is completed - this can be in writing (on a website or menu) or orally (by phone)

− when the food is delivered - this can be in writing (allergen stickers on food or an enclosed hard copy of a menu) or orally (by a delivery driver)

You will need to ensure that staff are aware of how to take orders with specific allergy requirements over the phone or online. We would recommend that staff are provided with clear written allergen information to refer to, so that they can respond accurately to allergy requests when taking orders. By law you are required to provide information in respect of 14 listed allergens.

What food hygiene considerations arise from operating as a food takeaway?

Existing food businesses which change to delivering food to customers should keep under review, and update as required, their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures. It is highly likely that as part of this process your staff will require additional training, particularly if undertaking new tasks such as delivery drop offs.

Food businesses may be transporting food for the first time ever. Consideration will need to be given to how food can be protected from contamination. Vehicles and bags used to store and transport food will need to be regularly cleaned and disinfected to ensure they are fit for purpose. Hot food needs to be kept hot, by using insulated bags or boxes when transporting food. Equally food that needs refrigerating must be kept cool whilst being transported with the use of cool bags or coolant gels.

Possible cross-contamination risks in the delivery process also need to be considered. Meals need to be packaged securely and allergen-free meals need to be stored separately in transit to avoid contamination from spillages. Allergen-free meals should be clearly marked with a sticker or note on the container.

Where bulk quantities are to be prepared in advance, there is an increased risk of food poisoning and consideration needs to be given to how food is to be cooled and refrigerated, and cooling times must be recorded.

How do we protect our delivery staff?

Whilst there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be passed on through food, we do know that it can be passed on by contact with infected people, and contact with surfaces touched by infected people up to 3 days after. Consideration must therefore be given to how delivery staff work, to protect their safety and the safety of members of the public.

At the point of ordering, you should put in place a process to establish whether or not a customer is self-isolating or ill. This information needs to be communicated to delivery staff to help minimise the risk of COVID- 19 transmission. Consideration needs to be given to whether food can be left on the customers doorstep and how you will notify customers that the food has been delivered to ensure that it is received.

Drivers should wash their hands on arrival for pick-ups and when returning after deliveries.

Kitchen staff should not come into contact with delivery staff and there should be a designated “safe zone” for food to be collected from, away from the main preparation areas.

Consideration needs to be given to how you will accept payment. Cashless systems should be implemented, and where possible payments taken online to minimise driver’s contact with customers. Social distancing of 2 metres can be achieved by ringing the customer’s doorbell and standing back. 

Do we need to provide details of our food hygiene rating?

Whilst not required by law in England, in Wales if you have a specific menu developed for food delivery, you are required to advise customers how to view your Food Hygiene Rating. There are specific requirements over the wording to be added to promotional materials, even down to the font size to be used and the spacing between text lines.

Can we offer alcohol for takeaway?

You can only offer takeaway/delivery alcohol if your premises licence permits “off-sales” or the licence specifies that both on and/off sales are authorised. If your licence does not include off sales, it is possible to apply to vary the conditions of the licence but this cannot form part of your offering until you have done so. Any such application will be subject to a consultation period of 28 days.

When delivering alcohol, ID checks will need to be conducted by delivery staff. Alcohol cannot be given to anyone under the age of 18 and you need to ensure that delivery staff have been fully trained in underage sales and that this training is documented. Where customers are self-isolating it may not be appropriate to deliver alcohol as these checks cannot be so easily undertaken.

What can we do to deal with supply chain issues?

It is likely that food operators will experience some disruption to the food supply chain, leading to shortages of ingredients. This in turn may lead to last minute substitutions and reduced menus. Any changes to the ingredients, or usual menu, require a full review of the food safety management system in place, a risk assessment of any food safety issues that could result from those changes and the implementation of appropriate controls. All changes should be clearly documented. Changes to allergen information must be clearly communicated to customers.

Any changes to your suppliers must also be recorded in your food safety management system to ensure traceability.

For further information about this, or any other food law queries, please contact Laura Shirley and Natascha Gaut.

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