Shropshire Council

Food business FAQs

Can COVID-19 (coronavirus) be passed on through food?

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is passed on through food. Please see the government advice.

Going shopping and handling open food

The main transmission of Coronavirus is person to person spread.  

As a customer, when food shopping it is important to maintain good personal hygiene especially around open food.  Maintain social distancing rules at all times. Consider taking hand sanitiser with you and remember to thoroughly wash your hands as soon as you can after shopping.  Use online shopping if you can.

It is possible infected food workers or consumers could introduce the virus to food or its packaging, by coughing/sneezing, or through hand contact. It is therefore important to strictly follow good personal hygiene practices. Do not go shopping if you are self-isolating.  Also remember you could be infected but have no symptoms.

it is important to follow good hygiene practices at all times when handling open food. If possible, try to minimise direct hand contact with food by using tongs and utensils. Gloves can be used to minimise direct contact with food. However, gloves can become contaminated with bacteria in the same way as hands so are not a substitute for good personal hygiene and hand washing.

Wash hands thoroughly before and throughout the preparation of food, in particular:

  • after coughing or sneezing
  • after going to the toilet
  • before eating and drinking

Hand sanitiser gels can be used in addition to hand washing, but they only work on clean hands. Hand Sanitisers should never be used as a substitute to hand washing with soap and water.

How is COVID-19 (coronavirus) passed on?

The exact source of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is not yet known but is believed to be animals.  The virus is spread by person to person contact.

The virus is commonly passed on:

  • directly, through contact with an infected person for example, droplets from coughing or sneezing (person to person spread)
  • indirectly, through contact with surfaces an infected person has coughed or sneezed upon

Current information suggests that the virus may survive a few hours, or even days, on certain surfaces. Simple household disinfectants can kill it, particularly if they contain bleach.

Food is not directly involved in the transmission of COVID-19. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. Hence the advice to public and staff alike is to wash your hands and maintain social distancing rules.

What can food workers do?

It is possible that infected food workers could introduce virus to the food they are working on, or onto surfaces within the food business, by coughing and sneezing, or through hand contact, unless they strictly follow good personal hygiene practices.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that standard recommendations to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are maintained. These include:

  • proper hand hygiene
  • cough/cold hygiene practices
  • safe food practices
  • avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing

In addition, the HSE are advising 'social distancing' to help slow the spread of coronavirus. See more information and guidance on social distancing on the Gov.UK website.

Food workers must wash hands:

  • before starting work
  • after coughing, sneezing or blowing nose
  • before handling cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • after handling or preparing raw food
  • after handling waste
  • after cleaning duties
  • after using the toilet
  • after eating, drinking or smoking
  • after handling money

Watch a video on how to wash your hands properly

Good hygiene and cleaning are also important to avoid cross-contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the kitchen.

What can food business owners/managers do?

The UK Government has advised that people should work from home where possible.

Where employees must attend work UK Government recommends social distancing to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Food business owners should ensure that staff are aware of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation and the advice given by the NHS in relation to symptoms, social distancing, restricted movement, self-isolation and travel.

However, food business owners (FBOs) should remember that they have particular responsibilities under food law and must maintain proper hygiene practices at all times.

They should, in general:

  • ensure that staff are trained appropriately in food hygiene
  • ensure effective supervision of staff to reinforce hygienic practices
  • provide the correct facilities e.g. hand washing, toilets, to enable staff to practice good hygiene
  • ensure staff and contractors report any physical signs/symptoms, before commencing work or while in the workplace.
  • keep vigilant and ensure that staff are not ill and are fit to work

Employers can use this fitness to work guidance and form to assess staff who they believe are ill.

The WHO has guidance on getting your workplace ready for COVID-19

The UK Government has issued guidance to employers and businesses on business continuity

I run a restaurant, what do I need to do if I want to do takeaway food?

Follow all of your existing food safety procedures and consider the additional guidance we've published, and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health guidance on Food Deliveries and Takeaways.

What do I need to do to control customers entering my takeaway premises?

If you are operating a collection or take-away service, customers must be encouraged to sanitise their hands upon arrival at the premises. It is recommended that hand sanitiser is placed at the entrance with a sign asking customers to use it before entering.

Post signage at the door – here is some suggested wording that can be used for this:

For the safety of everyone, please use this hand sanitiser before entering – do not enter if you are ill.

You should encourage non-cash payments and designate a low risk area for hand-over of the food. This should be well away from the kitchen and at a distance from as many staff as possible. Staff handing over food should place it down and keep a sensible distance from the customer. This area should be regularly sanitised throughout the day and staff should wash their hands after each handover.

You should try to adopt a one-in-one-out policy and identify allocated collection times for customers to avoid queuing outside the premise. If this is not possible, then you should ensure a queue control system is implemented, inside and outside your premises, ensuring the two meter distancing requirement is applied.

You could also post signage for social distancing  – here is some suggested wording that can be used for this:

To protect our customers and staff at this time, we are actively managing the number of customers who can come into our premises at any one time. Please make sure you stand two metres apart using the marked lines on the floor. When at the front wait behind the line until called forward. Thank you for your understanding and co-operation.

For more details see the guidance produced by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health or see our takeaway guidance.

Community and charity food provision

If you are setting up a way of providing food for the community, the Food Standard Agency has some published community and charity guidance that you must follow. Further information for new organisations/community groups can be found here.

What should food business owners/managers do if they have a supply chain problem caused by COVID-19?

Infections of staff with COVID-19 (coronavirus) in food businesses around the world may lead to disruption of the food supply chain where certain ingredients, packaging and cleaning chemicals may be in short supply.

Food businesses may be considering some of the following:

  • leaving out or substituting ingredients in a product, and/or
  • changing their packaging, and/or
  • changing their process

In these situations, it is important that food businesses remember their legal obligations to only place safe food on the market.

Any change to product, packaging or processing requires a full review of the business' food safety management system (Good Hygiene Practices and HACCP).

This will allow them to:

  • risk assess any food safety issues that could result from the proposed changes
  • put in place controls to manage any risks identified
  • document the changes

Examples of issues to consider include:

  • The introduction of allergens when changing ingredients and/or ingredient suppliers
  • Safe shelf-life if packaging changes and/or the product is formulated differently
  • The introduction of new microbiological, physical, chemical hazards with new ingredients

There may be other issues depending on the type of business/product involved.
The Food Standards Agency is closely monitoring this outbreak of respiratory illness caused by COVID-19 (Coronavirus). We will update this information as necessary. 

What steps do I need to take to deliver safely?

The Delivery Guidance from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health contains useful information how to deliver safely including:

  • Dealing with customers who are self-isolating
  • Safe procedures for drivers and delivery Staff
  • Social distancing for staff

Outdoor food markets / farmers markets

There is a risk posed by uncontrolled market trading resulting in public gatherings and therefore social distancing not being maintained. 

Businesses must not trade from any open spaces where they do not have permission and cannot practice safe social distancing.

Operators may decide to close markets as part of their actions taken to maintain social distancing.

Where markets are still in operation, we encourage operators and stall holders to consider how they can safely sell products without encouraging crowds and ensure hygiene measures are in place. This can be done by:

  • taking orders online or by telephone in advance and pre-packing orders to limit face-to-face time in the market
  • considering delivery services if possible

Further advice on Hygiene requirements can be found here and on our Food Safety Covid 19 web pages.

Any food trader must also be registered with Shropshire Council or with the Local Authority where they are based if it is not in the Shropshire Council area.