Kathryn Gilbertson

+44 (0)1733 887621 kgilbertson@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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Re-purposing your food business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus / 12 May 2020

On 28 April 2020, (World Day for Safety & Health at Work), Partner and Head of Regulatory, Kathryn Gilbertson, hosted a free live Q&A webinar with fellow regulatory law specialists, Mark Watson QC and Stuart Jessop, both of 6 Pump Court. The webinar discussed food information implications for food businesses restructuring to supply food for delivery, the recent authority on ‘use by date’ offences arising from Tesco Stores Limited v Birmingham City Council [2020] EWHC 799 (Admin), coronavirus key issues, including risk assessments, key controls and PPE and due diligence defence essentials. We will be considering these issues in our next mini-series, starting with re-purposing your food business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (below).

With most of the hospitality industry being closed for business, lockdown has placed restaurants and pubs between a rock and a hard place with takeaway being one of the only operational options for many.  If you have opted to go down this route already, or are considering doing so, we discuss below the general legal implications of repurposing your food business to supply a takeaway meal, ‘ready meal’ and/or grocery ingredients option.

General guidance

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness.  The World Health Organisation comments that it is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging.  The Food Standards Agency (FSA) comments that food packaging is not known to present a specific risk.  Nonetheless, good food safety hygiene remains paramount. In addition, food businesses should remember the following general rules:

– Any food handler who is unwell should not be at work.  If they have symptoms, they should follow the government advice and stay at home;
-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. Why not make your own hand-washing video to remind employees of the importance of this?
– Compliance with the FSA’S general guidance on good hygiene practices in food preparation and your own Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point processes.

Before reopening

Food business operators should continue to follow their Food Safety Manuals which will have been devised with good hygiene practices. Employers should stress the importance of more frequent hand washing and maintaining good hygiene practices in preparation of food and handling area.  Other important practical steps to consider include:

– Frequently cleaning and sanitizing objects and surfaces which are touched regularly, using your normal cleaning products. Cleaning should be in line with your food hygiene guidance;
– Staff should continue to follow existing precautions and safe systems of work;
– Check all equipment is fully functioning and working, in particular consider pest control, fridges and freezers, dishwasher and glass washers. Dishwashers that have not been used for some time may contain a build-up of bacteria and grease within the machine or any water that might have remained within it. Check that the machine, its seals and filters are clean. Run it through several wash and rinse cycles and recheck the filters cleaning if necessary;
– Ensure staff receive training and information on your new requirements;
– Increase mandatory hand washing for all members of staff throughout the shift – consider installing additional handwashing stations with access to soap, water and/or hand sanitizer in key locations; and
– Encourage staff to work side-by-side, 2 metres apart rather than opposite each other.

Food businesses that are adapting by offering a mixture of delivery, click-and-collect or grocery options are able to ‘get ahead’ and instil new working methods within their catering team.  They are likely to get back into business far more quickly than others.

Partner and Head of Regulatory, Kathryn Gilbertson, has an outstanding reputation in the food safety sector. If you have any queries about your food safety responsibilities as a business, or the inspector has called for a visit and you need our help, please do get in touch.

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