While not proven to be a primary channel of COVID-19 transmission, it’s important to remain vigilant regarding food safety, especially as restrictions ease and food retail industries slowly begin to resume operations. If the operations of your enterprise include food retail of any kind, whether it’s lunch for a board meeting or prepping meals for take-out, be sure to read the following tips to make sure your organization implements all appropriate measures to ensure food safety during COVID-19.
Basic food safety during COVID-19
Food safety during COVID-19 starts with the basics. While some extraordinary measures may need to be taken as a result of the pandemic (addressed later in this article) ensuring your organization is already following basic food safety guidelines is the best first step. Make sure your operation adheres to all guidelines set down by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and your local health district. In many instances, the following recommendations can be considered best practices.
The FDA, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and CDC offer the following four basics with regard to food handling:
- Clean — Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate — Don’t cross-contaminate.
- Cook — Cook to the right temperature.
- Chill — Refrigerate promptly.
In addition, the guidance found in the FDA’s Retail Food Protection: Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook provides valuable guidance for food workers and their employers regarding basic food handling protocols.
It is also recommended that any employee who handles food as part of their duties should hold a current food handler’s card or other equivalent certification that indicates they have been trained in basic food safety. These certifications should not be allowed to lapse. Management should oversee compliance in this area, as well as providing additional trainings to employees as needed or applicable.
The following guidance was paraphrased from the FDA’s food safety checklist, Best Practices for Re-Opening Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Please follow the hyperlink to access the full list of recommendations and related resources:
Additional food safety during COVID-19
- Clearly post any applicable signs regarding new COVID-19 measures for both staff as well as patrons.
- Clean, stock, disinfect and sanitize all areas as appropriate in accordance with all applicable COVID-19 recommendations.
- Increase circulation of outdoor air in the facility whenever possible.
- Implement new protocols to regularly disinfect and sanitize all high-touch areas and items.
Water, plumbing, ice
- Ensure potable water is available, hot and cold faucets are in working order and all water and sewer lines are functioning properly.
- Flush and maintain all water lines regularly, per manufacturer instructions.
- Regularly clean and sanitize all ice machines and bins.
Food contact & non-food contact surfaces
- Ensure any sanitizers rated for use against SARS-COV-2 are used appropriately per label instructions and staff is trained in the proper use of these and any other sanitizers or cleaning products.
- Develop a disinfection plan or schedule; maintain adequate stocks of sanitizer and other cleaning materials.
- Regularly clean all food contact surfaces according to health safety standards.
- Ensure there are adequate stocks of single-use articles (i.e. carryout utensils, plastic wrap, disposable gloves, etc.).
Food temperature control
- Check to see that all coolers, freezers, and hot/ cold units are functioning, clean, sanitized and protected from contamination.
- Verify that thermometers are calibrated to ensure that equipment and product temperatures are within safety guidelines.
Product inspection, rotation
- Make sure all food is regularly inspected for spoilage and appropriately discarded if necessary.
- Ensure that food is properly labeled and organized per a rotation schedule.
- Store all food, packaging and chemicals properly to prevent cross contamination.
- Any three-compartment sink systems should be regularly cleaned and equipped with the appropriate soaps, disinfectants and additional equipment.
- Remind employees to wash their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, wash hands before and after eating, and after going to the bathroom, sneezing, coughing, or blowing their nose.
- Check to see that all handwashing stations are fully stocked with soap and other necessities. Trash cans should be located so employees can open and close door handles with paper towels rather than bare hands.
- Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content in a variety of locations. Encourage both employees and patrons to use it regularly.
Employee health / screening
We strongly suggest establishing protocols for employee health screening per CDC guidelines, including:
- Employees returning to work after mandatory periods of isolation are in place
- Provisions to make up for potential employee absenteeism
- The use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Take measures to minimize face-to-face contact and enforce at least 6 feet of distance between employees and customers whenever possible.
- Limit self-serve options to individually packaged portions, especially in places such as buffets, salad bars and drink stations.
- Restrict the number of employees to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet in all workstation areas.
Other Considerations and Resources
Each organization has its own set of unique circumstances that will influence the nature of how they approach food safety during COVID-19. Ensure you consider all of them in the context of your own enterprise, so they are as effective as possible when implemented. Refer to the following materials for additional guidance.
Food Safety and The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants, and Food Pick-Up/Delivery Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Use of Respirators, Facemasks, and Cloth Face Coverings in the Food and Agriculture Sector During Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic
What Grocery and Food Retail Workers Need to Know about COVID-19