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Coronavirus | Re-opening food businesses safely 

How to re-open a food business safely after Covid-19

How to re-open a food business safely after Covid-19

In this article in our series on making your business COVID secure we focus on how businesses involving  food preparation or service can prepare to reopen their business safely in a post-COVID world. 

COVID-19 is a public health emergency that requires action on the part of all members of society to prevent the spread and transfer of the virus, particularly to those in vulnerable categories. Businesses that serve the public directly have a particular responsibility to ensure they have taken appropriate measures to make their business ‘COVID secure.’

All employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for employees and customers alike. The first step is to conduct a thorough COVID-19 Risk Assessment. You can read more about this in our previous blog here. The industry specific guidance below should be reviewed in accordance with your specific service offerings and risks posed and adapted appropriately. It is also worth noting that your legal obligations to equality and safety in the workplace remain as prior to the pandemic and are not overridden by new guidance set out to minimise risks of an outbreak. You can check for updates to UK Government guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/restaurants-offering-takeaway-or-delivery

Considering customers and visitors

Whilst some businesses can minimise visitors on site, those that rely on serving the public food must pay particular attention to protecting customers and visitors from the risk of transmission. Below are key things to consider prior to reopening your food based business (UK guidance):

Keeping records – You must keep a record of all visitors and customers to your business for 21 one days in order to assist the NHS Test and Trace system. You will need to provide this data when it is requested to help contain local outbreaks. Introduce online booking systems to manage the numbers of customers on the premises at any one time, and collect this information. This should include name, contact telephone number, date and time of booking. On the day of visit you can also record time of departure and the staff member who served them.

Limiting numbers – Bookings should only consist of up to two households or six people from any number of households when exclusively seated outside. Communicate these limits to customers.  It is illegal for groups of more than 30 people to meet in private homes. Businesses and venues can host larger groups where they are following COVID-19 guidelines. This includes those organised by businesses, charitable or political organisations and public bodies. Where a venue or event is organised in accordance with COVID-19 secure guidelines, additional steps should be taken to ensure the safety of the public and prevent large gatherings taking place. Local authorities will not issue licenses for events that could lead to larger gatherings. The government has the authority to close venues and prohibit events taking place that pose too great a risk. 

Working together – Businesses should consider what other businesses and venues are in close proximity and work with them and local authorities to assess and mitigate risk. This includes considering the impact of people arriving at a venue; staggering arrival times with other venues, avoiding queues, arranging one way routes to venues and avoiding routes to venues that may create congestion. Work with local authority, landlords and other local businesses to make appropriate changes.

Social distancing – Guidelines currently state a distance of 2m or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable. Determine the number of customers that can be within your premises and socially distance effectively. This will include accounting for busy areas, layout and furniture. Rearrange seating to comply with social distancing guidelines. Put in place controls for the arrival of customers and numbers on the premises at any one time. Ensure customers are able to socially distance when seated and standing. Put in place social distancing measures throughout the premise including toilets, waiting areas and service areas. Consider how customers move through the venue and ensure contact is minimised. Encourage hand-washing and the use of hand sanitiser for customers. Ensure any measures taken accommodate those with disability. Communicate that children must be supervised by parents and conform to guidelines. Play equipment should remain closed. Make allowance for weather changes and ensure those who are due to be outside can remain so unless they can be safely accommodated inside. Manage services and visits from those who are not customers, such as deliveries and contractors, to avoid peak open hours.

Queues –  Consider the processes involved for your business including queuing, use of public space and car parking. Offer additional parking and bike racks to reduce the need for customers to arrive via public transport. Discourage queueing and where unavoidable introduce systems to allow for queuing outside, managing security risk and protecting those queuing from traffic and other risks. Allocate staff to manage and direct queues. Provide clear signage and instructions prior to arrival for customers to assist them with complying to guidance.

Look at how you can maintain social distancing when taking orders. Use markings and signage to remind customers. Avoid self service by providing cutlery and condiments with food and ensure that condiments are either disposable or containers are cleaned after each use. 

Ask customers to remain at their tables or at a safe waiting distance when waiting for food. Use contactless payments and consider social distancing when taking payments. Look at ways to distance staff from customers at all service points, introducing shields where necessary. Encourage food orders to be made online or via phone prior to arrival to minimise contact and stagger food delivery times. 

Avoid contact between kitchen, front of house and delivery drivers by introducing collection zones. Create clear waiting areas for takeaway collection that complies to social distancing guidelines. This should be outside wherever possible. Table service should be offered wherever possible with a single staff member for each table. Ordering at a bar should be minimised wherever possible. Avoid customers congregating at any specific points of service and put in place processes accordingly. 

Encourage outside seating wherever possible with ventilation maximised at every opportunity. Review the use of customer toilets and washroom facilities to encourage social distancing and good hygiene.

Considering staff

Food based industries do not have as many other opportunities for staff to work from home as other sectors. However, if staff, such as administration staff, can work from home they should be encouraged to do so. We talk more thoroughly about working from home arrangements in our blog about reopening office workspaces. 

Where staff are at a venue your risk assessment should thoroughly examine the measures you will take to ensure their safety. Staff numbers should be minimised whilst maintaining safe service levels. Where staff members are vulnerable or live with vulnerable people, and they are required on site, measures should be taken to ensure risks to their health are minimised and they are able to do roles which offer the maximum levels of social distancing. 

In the event of a team member needing to self isolate or displaying coronavirus symptoms, current guidelines should be followed regarding self isolation and statutory sick pay due to coronavirus. (current guidance for employers and employees relating to statutory sick pay due to coronavirus) (current guidance for people who have symptoms and those who live with others who have symptoms.)

Staff should work in distinct shift groups to avoid cross overs. Where shifts have change-over points these should be reviewed to avoid ‘pinch points.’ Records should be kept of groups working together to assist with NHS Test and Trace if required.

Maintain social distancing between staff and staff and customers as much as possible. Increase hand washing and surface cleaning. Reduce activity times where social distancing is not possible and introduce screens and barriers to protect employees from customers and other employees. Avoid face-to-face working and introduce fixed teams or partnering to minimise interaction between staff members. Consider whether activities that cannot maintain social distancing are necessary. Stagger arrival and departure times for staff members, encouraging travel that avoids public transport. Introduce one way entry and exit systems for staff and mark out these routes. Provide hand-washing and sanitiser facilities at these points. Offer storage for staff personal items such as clothes in safe and containable places. Accommodate changing areas so that staff can safely change into uniforms on site, which should be worn clean each shift and where possible washed on site.

Maintain social distance between staff members and staff members and public wherever possible. Reduce movement through the venue for staff members. Where possible introduce the use of radios and telephones to aid communication between kitchens and front of house. Assign workers to one area to avoid movement and where these areas must be shared this should be with the minimal number of people. Review the layout of your venue to allow for safe working. Where working practices cannot accommodate social distancing, consider if they are necessary to your business. Create one way systems around venues for staff and manage the use of corridors and staircases. Reduce the capacity and use of lifts, prioritising those with mobility issues and providing hand sanitiser within them. Discourage face-to-face working. Ensure clear markings and signage to assist staff. All back of house areas, including changing areas and break rooms, should be reviewed to allow for social distancing and preventing contact. Break times should be staggered with outdoor space used where possible. Changing rooms and shower areas should be reviewed for social distancing measures and regular cleaning put in place.

Considering food preparation areas

COVID-19 is not thought to be transmitted via food as it is an airborne virus. However, ensuring high levels of hygiene to prevent infection between staff and to the public should always be a priority. Limit the numbers of people in food preparation areas and avoid contact between kitchen staff and other team members. Work in set shift teams to minimise cross overs. Review kitchen layouts in view of creating social distance between crew members. Mark out social distance guidelines, using one way traffic flows where possible. Limit access to store rooms, fridges and freezers with a one person policy. Think about contact points with other staff members and put in place distancing measures.. Follow current safe food handling advice from the Food Standards Agency (https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/reopening-and-adapting-your-food-business-during-covid-19)

Entertainment

Live entertainment is not permitted in any capacity due to aerosol transmission. Guests should not be encouraged to raise their voice so music and other broadcasts should be avoided. Guests should not be encouraged to dance so entertainment spaces should be adapted to limit space. Online ticketing and payment for entertainment should be encouraged and arrangements clearly communicated to customers prior to the event.

Meetings

Wherever possible meetings should take place remotely. Where they are necessary, social distancing measures should be put in place and sharing items minimised. Outdoor meetings should be encouraged and signage and sanitiser provided.

Accidents and incidents

In the event of an accident or incident within a workplace, social distancing measures do not need to be maintained where they compromise safety. Your current procedures for dealing with unexpected accidents and emergencies should be reviewed with training given where necessary. Reviews should also consider the impact to safety within the business from changes you have made to the premises to mitigate the risk of coronavirus. This includes your fire risk assessment and security measures.

Cleaning

Prior to reopening you will need to do a thorough review of your venue and implement an appropriate cleaning schedule. Review your ventilation and air conditioning systems to ensure they offer appropriate levels of ventilation and do not recirculate air between spaces. The lack of use whilst closed will have increased the risk of legionella. Follow guidance on managing legionella risks. The food standards agency gives full guidance on the safe reopening of food businesses (guidance on reopening food businesses.)

Once reopened follow government guidance on cleaning food preparation and food service areas. Keep non fire doors open where appropriate to reduce touchpoints. Conduct regular and thorough cleaning of regularly touched objects and surfaces including between use, particularly when used by customers. Follow specific guidance in the event of an outbreak. Maintain good ventilation wherever possible. 

Ensure additional cleaning and disinfection measures are put in place in kitchen areas. Offer safe collection of used towels and overalls. Hands should be washed before handling anything customers come in direct contact with such as plates. Maintain excellent hand washing standards including washing hands after handling customers’ items before moving on to other tasks.

Use signs and posters to encourage good hand-washing, hygienic sneezing and coughing and safe disposable of tissues. Mark social distances for queues and waiting areas for toilets. Offer hand sanitiser on entry and ample hand-washing facilities before leaving including hygienic hand drying. Set out a clear and thorough cleaning schedule focusing on frequently used areas with particular care taken cleaning portable and large toilet blocks. Keep your cleaning schedule visible and up to date. Keep toilet areas well ventilated. Increase waste facilities and removal of waste in a safe and timely manner.

Method Grid allows you to create, review and regularly update cleaning procedures as well as allocating responsibility to team members for the management of each area. Create a free account today >>

Items arriving on site and travelling between venue

Deliveries to site should be minimised with larger quantities being ordered to minimise how often they are needed. When items such as deliveries arrive on site, items should be cleaned and outer packaging removed. Minimal numbers of staff should be allocated to loading or unloading deliveries and those handling goods should wash their hands before and after touching items arriving on site and any shared equipment should also be cleaned. Delivery drivers should maintain social distancing and regular hand-washing. Person to person contact during deliveries should be minimised with paired delivery teams where more than one person is required. Electronic and touch free processing of paperwork and payment should be encouraged. Drivers should be allowed to remain in their vehicle where it is safe to do so and be offered safe rest facilities if they are required. Stockrooms should be adapted to allow for one way flow and to mitigate risks of people and items arriving to the venue contaminated. 

Vehicles used within the business should be regularly cleaned. Your laundry procedures should be reviewed to prevent transmission and contamination.Unnecessary work travel should be avoided. Where employees travel for work, public transport should be avoided and those sharing vehicles minimised. Shared vehicles should be cleaned between shifts.

Communication

It is of paramount importance that the safety measures you are implementing are communicated to customers and staff. This can be done by written and spoken communication, visual cues such as posters and signage, both electronically and physically at the venue. Communications should be offered to accommodate those with visual and aural impairment. Communicating with local authorities, police and anyone else impacted by your business is also advised so that everyone can work together to mitigate risk and avoid issues. Staff should be trained to communicate policies and processes to customers and any other visitors to the venue such as suppliers. At every opportunity communication should be done in such a way as to pose no threat to safety. 

In addition to signs and guidance on site for those working or visiting the venue, anyone coming in contact with your business should be regularly updated to your plans and reviews of your working practices. Expectations should be laid out clearly and training offered to staff where needed. Creating opportunities for staff to feedback as to how policies are being implemented is beneficial to ensure ongoing engagement and effective management. You should also be putting in place active measures to support the mental health of your team at this overwhelming time.

Method Grid is an excellent way to collate your policies and procedures and easily convey them to staff and visitors alike. Grids can be tailored to provide relevant information and easily shared with all involved.

Food preparation and service businesses offer many potential points of contact between staff and customers. Close working between staff creates risks for team members. Your COVID-19 Risk Assessment should identify all of the factors we have illustrated here and offer detailed risk mitigation plans. We hope that this blog has helped to lay out the different considerations you should take on board in order to accommodate for the safe reopening of your business.

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