With the end in sight (we hope) for the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown it is important to stay ahead of the game and start thinking about reopening your food business.
Remember there is always going to be the possibility of another outbreak, therefore, we need to think about how we can operate businesses safely and responsibly. So what do you do that is different? Safety of staff and customers will be paramount at this transitional time and there are several measures food business managers/owners and workers can take before they open the doors. We have created a checklist of food safety factors which we think all food businesses should consider upon reopening.
Open communication and education with staff prior to reopening
Ensure your staff are aware of how important it is that the business has a plan in place to manage the risk of COVID -19 and how important it is they stick to the plan.
Communicate to your staff about COVID-19 symptoms and emphasise that any sickness must be reported to management
- Have any staff been unwell, been overseas to affected regions or in contact with persons who have? You could ask them to sign a declaration to advise they have no COVID-19 symptoms and have not been in contact with any other people with the illness.
- If your staff are unable to work make sure you understand the importance of looking after their welfare. Help them get what they need - direct them to the appropriate government agency or health provider.
Communicate with staff and come up with a plan for social distancing whilst at work
- How will staff move through areas of the business whilst staying 2 meters apart from other staff and customers? This includes things such as; restricting occupancy, rearrange furniture and limiting the amount of staff onsite.
Communicate with staff to emphasise the importance of personal hygiene practices while at work.
- Wash & dry hands thoroughly and often using soap, water, and paper towels.
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue or into their elbow
- Sanitise hands regularly especially after touching money, EFTPOS machine, and POS terminal
Remind staff about the importance of cleaning and sanitising surfaces and equipment.
- Cleaning is removing dirt and grease (use detergent-based cleaning products)
- Sanitising is killing bugs left on surfaces (use approved surface sanitisers - check with your cleaning product supplier if you’re unsure).
On re-entering the food business:
Check for signs of pests
Check all around your premise for mouse & rat droppings, dead insects, full mouse traps and rodent bait stations with no bait left. It helps to use a torch to check darker areas and underneath/behind equipment. If you find evidence of pests, take appropriate actions.
These actions could include:
- Cleaning up droppings and dead insects
- Reset rodent traps (peanut butter works well on traps)
- Re-bait rodent bait stations
- Clean out insect light traps & ensure they are working correctly
- Replace empty canisters of insect spray dispensers if you have them in non-food areas
Run each tap for a few minutes to flush water pipes.
Mobile food outlets (food trucks) should flush the water system and clean, sanitise & rinse water tanks.
Turn on refrigeration units, chillers, and display units & ensure they are clean, free of mould & working properly.
How to check your units are maintaining food temperatures below 5℃
- Put a cup of water in each unit when you turn them on.
- Monitor the temperature every few hours by inserting a digital probe thermometer into the water.
- Once the temperature reads below 5℃ you can use the unit to store food that needs to be kept cold.
Check freezer units are still working properly.
Food must be thrown away if there are any signs of thawing/refreezing. Signs include food looking frosted or crystalised, and a solid block of ice at the bottom of the freezer. Consider cleaning/organizing your freezers while stock is low.
Check that other key equipment is clean and working correctly:
- Dishwasher: dishes should be too hot to handle straight after each cycle. Detergent should be well-stocked and dosing correctly (to check the dosing, draw a line to indicate the level of the detergent on the container and check that the level of the detergent has gone down after a few cycles).
- Ice machines: thoroughly check for mould using a torch, clean and sanitise before use.
- If in doubt, book a service agent to come and service your equipment.
- Consider only using assisted display cabinets that stop customers from self-serving.
Check all food storage.
If in doubt, throw it out. Check for:
- Damaged packaging
- Expiry dates
- Throw away any food packaging (e.g. takeaway containers, pizza boxes, coffee cups, serviettes, paper bags) that are potentially contaminated or not stored in pest-proof containers.
Clean & sanitise:
- All food areas, surfaces, utensils, and equipment
- All customer areas and surfaces
- Develop a cleaning schedule to clearly communicate procedures.
- Clean what, how, how often?
- Ensure high-risk zones are included: door handles, taps, EFTPOS terminal, mobile phones, chair backs, hand soap dispensers, hand washbasins.
- Consider the process for laundering cleaning cloths regularly or will disposable cloths be used.
- Consider putting signs on all tables telling the customer that the table is cleaned every 30 minutes or after every serving
- Ensure staff are trained in cleaning and regularly supervised
- Everyone needs to keep washing their hands and hand-sanitiser needs to be provided for both staff and customers. Basic Hygiene will be more important than ever.
- The COVID-19 factsheet about washing hands can be found here https://covid19.govt.nz/assets/translations/Covid-19-what-you-need-to-know.pdf
- Give customers the opportunity to clean their hands before eating. Consider making this mandatory (think first-class Air NZ with the hot towels).
Communicate to your suppliers about COVID-19 symptoms and risks
- Ensure that food handlers and external contractors/suppliers are aware of the risks associated with COVID-19 and that they must report any signs/symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work.
- It is even more essential to check the temperature of the delivered chilled items, delivery companies are likely to be extremely busy and the business’s food could be on the truck for longer than usual. If the chilled compartment is opened often this can cause the temperature to rise, potentially putting the contents of the chiller at risk of being in the temperature danger zone.
- Considering recording the contact details of your suppliers (just like you should with customers) when they deliver items for traceability purposes.
- Try to avoid having too much food on-site while the country is in an alert stage. If the government has to re-impose strict measures again the business could be stuck with food that can not be sold.
- Wireless Temperature Sensors - Take the guesswork out of your food safety temperature checks and also monitor your valuable stock.
- Bluetooth Probes - Should be considered for food deliveries (for stock coming in) and food orders going out to customers.
Use social media to communicate with your customers
- Think about using E-Vouchers so that regular customers and the community can access your services if you are not able to fully open straight away.
- Remind your customers that you need them for your business to survive.
- Promote the use of contactless payment: PayWave, Apple Pay, Internet Banking.
Look at delivery options
- There will still be restrictions in place and the high probability the country will only drop back to alert level 2 or 3. Restaurants are unlikely to be allowed to offer dine-in services or will have to severely restrict the number of customers in the premises at any one time, for example, they may only be able to allow one person in at a time or only offer takeaway meals (social distancing will be applied).
- Remember there will be an influx of food businesses using delivery services so what is your point of difference? Maybe a happy hour for online orders or coupons for discounts?
- Consider what changes you might need to make to your Food Control Plan to allow you to carry out deliveries.
Make sure all your records are up to date
- Additional records around preventing the spread of COVID-19 may be required.
- If you are wanting to limit the amount of staff on-site, consider delegating one person to make sure all food safety records are accurate.
- Going paperless and using an app to manage all food safety records might be a good option.
- Using a food safety app may also allow your business to undergo remote verifications in the future.
- Remember to have a plan to sanitise all devices used for recording your information.
Implement a COVID-19 guest register. This is important for tracking customers in the event of COVID-19 or other disease transmission. Assign a staff member to fill the guest register so only one person is touching the pen and paper.
Or sanitise the pen after every use, ask your guests to sanitise hands before/after writing down their details.
Include the following Information:
- Full Name
- Email address
If you're unsure about your food safety requirements get in touch with your registration authority or your verifier.
We would like to acknowledge the team at Food and Health Standards and Auditing Solutions in helping us to pull this article together. Their food safety knowledge was invaluable and we value our partnership.
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