COVID-19 and Food Safety
The FSAI have posted the below advice in relation to COVID-19 and Food Safety
Can COVID-19 be passed on through food?
There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is passed on through food. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. The advice to food businesses and consumers is to maintain good hygiene practices and to wash your hands regularly. Thorough cooking will kill the virus.
Do food workers need to wear gloves?
No. It is perfectly acceptable to prepare and handle food with bare hands provided proper hand washing procedures are in place.
Gloves may be used by food workers, but they must ensure that the gloves are changed frequently and that hands are washed between glove changes and when gloves are removed.
Gloves must be changed after carrying out non-food related activities such as opening/closing doors by hand, emptying bins, handling money, etc.
Food workers should be aware that wearing gloves can allow bacteria to build up on the surface of the hands, so hand washing is extremely important when gloves are removed to avoid subsequent contamination of food.
It is important to wash your hands even when wearing gloves, as contaminated gloves can spread germs to your hands when removing the gloves.
If I wear gloves, is hand washing still important?
Proper hand washing is extremely important, whether using gloves or not. If using gloves, hand washing should be carried out before putting gloves on, between glove changes and after gloves are removed.
The problem with the use of gloves is that if staff are not given proper training in food safety, gloves are often seen as a barrier to food contamination. Staff may then carry out many non-food related tasks (e.g. handling money, emptying bins, wiping counters) while wearing the same pair of gloves that they then use to prepare food.
When wearing gloves for a prolonged period of time, without frequent changing and hand washing, bacteria on the skin rapidly multiply due to the warm, moist environment created by the gloves. If the gloves tear or are removed and food is handled without hand washing, a high number of bacteria can be transferred to the food.
Is there a risk to consumers from ‘open’ food?
There is currently little scientific information about the survival of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) on the surface of open food. Work with similar viruses shows that some food surfaces don’t allow the virus to survive at all, but some do.
Therefore, it is important to maintain good hygiene practices around open food (e.g. unpackaged bread, cakes, fruit, salad bars etc.) and this will reduce the risk of contamination of the food. People should strictly observe good personal hygiene practices at all times around open food. Customers and food businesses are expected to behave in a hygienic manner. Food businesses are obliged to monitor open food displays to make sure they are hygienic and avoid having such open food displays near tills or serve-over counters, where customers are ordering or paying for food.
How should food businesses manage open food displays?
To help avoid the transmission of COVID-19 through surface contact, frequent washing and sanitizing of all food contact surfaces and utensils is advised.
Food service workers must practice frequent hand washing and, if using gloves, must change them before and after preparing food. Food service workers must ensure frequent cleaning and sanitizing of counters, serving utensils and condiment containers.
If possible, hand sanitizer should be made available to consumers on their way in and out of the food premises.
Avoid handling money and encourage the use of contactless payments if possible. If food workers must handle money, it is important to wash hands afterwards and always before handling food.
Hand sanitisers should be provided by businesses where possible.
Wipes could be provided for customers to clean the handles of shopping trollies and baskets.
Touch points e.g. trollies, keypads, door handles etc., should be cleaned more frequently.
Keep doors open where possible to minimise contact.
In general, food business owners 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 and hygienic practices
- 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 of illness, before commencing work or while in the workplace
- keep vigilant and ensure that staff are not ill and are fit to work
Do I need to recall food products if a food worker was potentially shedding the virus while working?
There is currently no evidence to indicate transmission of COVID-19 through food or food packaging.
Food businesses are required to maintain clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces, therefore a ‘deep clean’ is advised following potential infection of a food worker in the premises along with exclusion of co-workers who are close contacts (anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes within 2 meters of an infected person) in line with HSE advice.
If a staff member in my food business has tested positive for COVID-19, do I need to close?
Food businesses should follow the advice of the HSE. Any decision to close a business will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission and not based on a food safety risk.
If a food worker has tested positive for COVID-19, do I need to advise other food workers to self-isolate?
Food businesses should follow the advice of the HSE.
What should food business owners/managers do if they have a supply chain problem caused by COVID-19?
Due to a disruption in their supply chain, certain ingredients and packaging might be in short supply and food businesses may be considering some of the following:
- leaving out or substituting ingredients in a product
- changing their packaging
- 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 businesses food safety management system (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.
Is there a risk with food products or ingredients which are imported from an affected country/region?
No, COVID-19 is not transmitted through food or ingredients. Even if surfaces or packaging have been contaminated, the virus will only survive on such surfaces for a short period, therefore there is no risk of contamination.