COVID-19: Advice for food businesses wanting to diversify
Following the Government’s announcement on 23 March 2020 that all cafés, pubs and restaurants had to close with immediate effect, many food businesses have looked to diversify their offering to maintain business during the Covid-19 lockdown. For example, many have introduced takeaway and delivery options where they have not done so before. We set out below some top tips and guidance to support businesses through this transition.
Food Hygiene Practices
Food business operators should remember that you are still responsible for complying with food hygiene regulations and ensuring that the food you sell is safe for customers. Current scientific advice is that it is very unlikely that Coronavirus is transmitted through food or food packaging (the main transmission route is assumed to be human-to-human contact). Nonetheless, good hygiene practices will help prevent the spread of the infection.
Here are some top tips for food businesses thinking about offering a takeaway service for the first time:
- Suppliers: Ensure you continue to use reputable suppliers
- Surface disinfectants: Frequently clean and disinfect food preparation surfaces and equipment (in line with your business’ Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)).
- Cross-contamination: Take additional care to physically separate raw and cooked food areas and equipment. It may also be advisable to limit the range of menu items on offer if necessary.
- Hand washing: Stress the importance of more frequent handwashing and good hygiene practices to your staff. Those handling food should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Temperature control: Food must be delivered to consumers in a way that ensures it does not become unsafe to eat. Foods that need refrigerating must be kept cool during transportation (either in a cool bag or insulated box which is regularly sanitised). Hot food must arrive to the consumer at 63 degrees or above.
- Vehicles: All vehicles used to transport food must be regularly cleaned and allow for the separation of foods. Travel distances should be kept short and times limited to within 30 minutes.
- Contact-free delivery: Follow recommendations on social distancing by leaving deliveries at the door of your customer, rather than handing it over to them. Avoid handling money and encourage the use of contactless payments if possible.
- Click and Collect: If you provide a Click and Collect service, then you will need to designate a low risk area for the handover of the food – at a distance from as many staff as possible.
Managing Allergen Information
Food business operators must also remember to follow the allergen information rules set out in the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation. This provides that when selling takeaways through a telephone or online order, allergen information must be provided at two stages in the process:
- Before the purchase of the food is completed – this could be in writing (for example, on your website, catalogue or menu) or orally ( for example, by telephone); and
- When the food is delivered – this could be in writing (for example, on allergen stickers on food or enclosed hard copy of the menu) or orally.
The allergen information must be available to the customer in a written form at some point between a customer placing the order and taking delivery of it. If you have made any changes to your menu, then ensure that you have reviewed all allergen information.
Although these are unusual times, the normal food hygiene, labelling and other legal requirements remain in place, and regulators (usually the local authority) will take enforcement steps against those who are not compliant.
Planning Implications of a Change of Use
Previously, planning permission was required to carry out a change of use from a café, restaurant or pub to a hot food takeaway. These rules have been relaxed to support businesses and provide flexibility during this difficult time. However, you are still required to tell your local authority when the new use begins and ends. Please also note that the serving of alcohol drinks will continue to be subject to existing licensing laws.
If you have any concerns or queries about food takeaway services, you should seek independent professional advice as soon as possible. The Food & Beverage team at Charles Russell Speechlys are fully operational and happy to take calls, even if just as a sounding board. We are dedicated to working with you during this difficult time. Please feel free to contact any of us for further information or if you have any questions.