Health & safety

As there are more people at home and many services are being provided in a different way, here is some guidance and safety information about paper, water and the preparation and delivery of food during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Environmental Health and Licensing officers are not carrying out site visits, but they are available by phone and e-mail to answer enquiries and give advice.

Leaflets can be delivered on behalf of local businesses, as long as the person carrying out the delivery sticks to the social distancing guidelines. They should remain at least three steps away (2 metres) from others and wear the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and maintain good personal hygiene.

Although there is no evidence to suggest you can catch coronavirus from paper, when you get any post we would advise you to open it, read it and recycle it unless you need to keep it, Wash your hands afterwards.

With more people at home we all need to be aware of the risk of Legionella in vacant properties and workplaces which have become less occupied and where water is allowed to may stagnate in water systems.

Taps or other outlets on hot and cold water systems should be used at least once a week to maintain a degree of water flow and to minimise the chances of stagnation.

To manage the risks during non-occupancy, consideration should be given to implementing a suitable flushing regime or other measures, such as draining the system if it is to remain vacant for long periods, Public Health England has some guidance.

You need to make sure there is a good turnover of water, adequate monitoring of control parameters ie temperature/or biocide levels and inspected for cleanliness also the regular flushing of dead legs, infrequently used outlets and areas of the system where there is poor circulation.

You also need to assess the risk of legionella control across all water provision to ensure water quality is maintained and review risk assessments. If you cannot maintain the current control regime you need to consider emergency shutdown procedures.

In addition, you need to consider other water systems no longer in use, such asevaporative cooling towers, leisure, sports and swimming and spa pool facilities. More details can be found in the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group Code of Practice.

Guidance has also been produced by the European Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious disease on managing Legionella in building water systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current scientific advice shows it is very unlikely coronavirus can be spread through food, but restaurants, pubs and similar non-essential food businesses are now closed, to achieve the necessary social distancing to delay the spread of coronavirus.

Some community organisations and voluntary groups are providing meals and food packs to the community.

While you do not need a food hygiene certificate to provide food for charity or community groups, you do need to make sure you handle food safely. Food provided for community groups must comply with food law and be safe to eat.

Registration

If you handle, prepare, store and serve food occasionally and on a small scale, you do not need to register as a food business.

If you are providing food on a regular and organised basis, or are setting up a food bank, you may need to register, please contact us for advice. 

Existing food banks should already be registered and have actions in place to minimise the risks to users.

Food hygiene when cooking or donating food

If you are donating or preparing food, you need to make sure those who receive the food know what is in it and how to prepare it, so it doesn't make them ill.

Donating prepacked food products will make sure the foods are properly labelled with instructions such as use-by dates, allergen information and storage guidelines.

If you are preparing meals, the four main things to remember for good hygiene are the 4Cs:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Chilling
  • Avoiding cross-contamination

It's very important to store food properly to keep it safe. Storing food in sealed containers and at the correct temperature protects it from harmful bacteria, stops objects falling into it, and avoids cross-contamination with other ingredients.

When you're making food for large numbers of people:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables before cooking or consumption.
  • Keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate.
  • Do not use food past its use-by date.
  • Always follow cooking instructions.
  • Make sure food is properly cooked before you serve it.
  • Ensure food preparation areas are suitably cleaned and sanitised after use and wash any equipment you are using in hot soapy water.
  • Ensure frozen food is safely defrosted in a fridge before you use it.
  • Keep food out of the fridge for the shortest time possible.

Food temperature

Food which needs to be chilled at 8◦c or below, such as sandwiches should be left out of the fridge for the minimum possible time and never for more than four hours.

After this time, any remaining food should be thrown away or put back in the fridge. If you put the food back in the fridge, don't let it stand around at room temperature when you serve it again. It should be eaten as soon as possible.

Allergen guidance when cooking for your community or donating food

You should provide details of the relevant 14 allergens. This will allow people with food allergies to make safe food choices.

As best practice, anyone making or donating foods for a food bank should label it appropriately, saying what the item is, the date it was produced and include details of any allergens so individuals with food hypersensitivities can avoid it.

If you know the people you are cooking for, ask about any allergy requirements they may have before preparing their meals.

If you are cooking for a community group, you can provide allergen information by labelling food containers or providing a note for each meal.

Cooking for someone with a food allergy or intolerance can be worrying if you're not used to doing it. You can plan a safe meal by:

  • Asking what they can and can't eat.
  • Making sure you keep allergens separate from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Double-checking the ingredients lists on prepacked foods for allergen information.
  • Checking the ingredients with the person who provided the food, if it was donated.
  • Avoiding adding toppings or garnishes to dishes which might otherwise appear allergen-free.
  • Cleaning work surfaces and equipment thoroughly to remove traces of anything you might have cooked before.

There are often good substitutes available for ingredients someone may need to avoid. Ask the people with a food allergy for help and suggestions for ingredients.

More allergen information can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Foods which need extra care

Some foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others. These include raw milk, raw shellfish, soft cheeses, pate, foods containing raw egg and cooked sliced meats.

If you plan to serve any of these foods, consult the Foods which need extra care section in our Safer food, better business guidance.

Meal containers

If you want to provide food in containers, it is important to select appropriate food grade packaging. This is packaging intended for multiple use, such as Tupperware or takeaway boxes. This will make sure the transported food is safe and its quality maintained. For example, packaging materials may be required to be liquid repellent to prevent leaks, or to stop paper becoming soaked through.

Without this type of packaging, chemical contaminants or germs could transfer onto the food. Well-fitting lids will also minimise any hygiene or spillage risks.

It is safe to re-use glass and plastic containers, as long as they are free from chips and cracks. Make sure containers are thoroughly cleaned to prevent cross-contamination with germs, allergens and physical contaminants. If they are dishwasher safe, a dishwasher is preferable for cleaning due to the high temperature it reaches. Containers should be washed thoroughly in hot, soapy water if a dishwasher is unavailable.

Delivering meals

All food must be delivered in a way which ensures it does not become unsafe or unfit to eat.

Food that needs refrigerating must be kept cool while being transported. This may need to be packed in an insulated box with a coolant gel or in a cool bag. Equally, food that needs to be kept hot should be packed in an insulated bag.

You should also avoid possible cross-contamination risks in the delivery process. This can be done through packaging meals securely and storing allergen-free meals separately in transit, to avoid contamination through any spillages.

If an allergen-free meal has been requested, it should be clear when delivered which container it is in. You can use stickers or a note on the container to label each meal.

More information about safe delivery

Infection control

Food businesses must ensure food handlers are fit for work and comply with health and safety.

Staff must be given clear instructions about any infection control policy in place and any person affected and/or employed in a food business and/or who is likely to come into contact with food should report the illness or symptoms immediately and if possible their causes, to the business owner.

Maintaining a two metre distance between people must also apply in your kitchen to keep your staff safe. The government has issued guidance on Coronavirus for employees and businesses.

More information on preparing foods for the community.

Some businesses are diversifying to maintain their business. Current scientific advice shows it is very unlikely coronavirus can be spread through food, but government requirements mean restaurants, pubs and similar non-essential food businesses are closed, to achieve the necessary social distancing to delay the spread of coronavirus.

If you are changing how you run your food business, you should think through any new hazards and ensure you have control measures in place to eliminate the risks.

A business can only provide take-away and delivery food services if it is already registered as a food business.

Food safety

Businesses already registered and which want to diversify into these areas do not need to let us know.

Food businesses will need to review their HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) based Food Safety Management System to ensure the additional hazards, for example, cross contamination, temperature control; transport and delivery associated with these changes in operation, are considered and documented where appropriate.

The Food Safety Management System must be suitable and sufficient, to ensure:

  • Those control points which are critical to food safety have been identified and implemented.
  • Measures to be taken in the event of a failure in control at those critical points are specified and management checks to verify the correct operation of procedures are made and recorded.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has provided advice on this for businesses selling products online, for takeaway or for delivery.

Delivering food

Food should be put into food safe containers for delivery. Consider the time and distance for delivering and try and keep both to a minimum to maintain food quality and safety. Ensuring good temperature control is essential.

For food safety and quality, you will want to ensure hot ready to eat food is delivered piping hot. You will need to consider how to do this. Insulated cool boxes/bags are a good way to keep the heat in food.

It is important to deliver the food as quickly as possible following preparation. Food intended to be eaten cold, must be kept it cold. Use insulated cold storage boxes or similar to keep the temperature between 0 - 5°C.

You should also ensure:

  • Delivery vehicles are fit for purpose and food must not be subjected to potential contamination.
  • The interior of the vehicle is kept clean and food is not transported with animals or chemicals such as fuel, oil and screen wash.
  • The vehicle insurance covers business use.
  • Alcoholic beverages are not delivered - unless you have a licence to do this.
  • Hot food and/or drink are/is not served between the hours of 11pm and 5am, unless you have a licence to do so.

Contact free delivery

Limiting contact when delivering orders will help keep everyone healthy. You should leave deliveries at your customer's door, rather than handing it over to them. The delivery driver should knock on the door, step back at least 2 metres and wait nearby for the customer to collect it.

Take payments over the phone or internet, to avoid handling cash. If this is not possible, ensure your delivery driver has some alcohol gel to clean their hands after handling money.

Allergen management 

Allergen management is also crucial to the safety of your customers, when food is sold at a distance, for example via internet sales, home delivery or ordered in advance as a take-away. Measures must be in place to ensure the relevant allergen information is provided.

Food businesses must provide allergen information about any of the 14 legal allergens when these are used, as ingredients, in the food and/or drink they provide. 

The allergen information must be available to the customer at two stages through the ordering process as follows:

  • Before they order - this can be given verbally or in writing (for example in an online menu).
  • At the point of delivery - if there has been no opportunity to speak to the customer before this will need to be in writing, for example, on stickers on the food packaging.

Additional information on allergens is available on the Food Standards Agency website.

All foods must be provided to consumers in a way, which ensures they do not become unsafe or unfit to eat during the take-away or delivery process. 

Infection control

Food businesses must ensure food handlers are fit for work and comply with health and safety.

Staff must be given clear instructions about any infection control policy in place and any person affected and/or employed in a food business and/or who is likely to come into contact with food should report the illness or symptoms immediately and if possible their causes, to the business owner.

Maintaining a two metre distance between people must also apply in your kitchen to keep your staff safe. The government has issued guidance on Coronavirus for employees and businesses.

Anyone who has been asked to self-isolate can order a takeaway by phone or online. They should tell the delivery driver the items are to be left outside or at another agreed location.

The Working Safely guidance sets out practical steps for businesses in eight guides covering a range of different types of work. Many businesses operate more than one type of workplace, such as an office, factory and fleet of vehicles. You may need to use more than one of these guides as you think through what you need to do to keep employees safe.