Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness. The most important symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of any of the following:
- a new continuous cough
- a high temperature
- a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)
For most people coronavirus (COVID-19) will be a mild illness. However, anyone who develops symptoms must self-isolate at home and not go to work, following stay at home guidance. They should arrange to have a test by visiting testing or contacting NHS 119 by telephone if they do not have internet access.
What you need to know about COVID-19 and food
Although it is very unlikely that COVID-19 is transmitted through food or food packaging, as a matter of good hygiene practice anyone handling food must wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This should be done routinely, including:
- before and after handling food
- when moving between different areas of the workplace, and especially after being in a public place
- after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Coughs and sneezes should be caught in a tissue or the crook of your elbow
Food packaging should be handled in line with usual food safety practices and staff should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working.
Any food handler or other employee who develops COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolate at home and should arrange to have a test by visiting testing or contacting NHS 119 by telephone if they do not have internet access.
Food business operators should continue to follow the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA) guidance on good hygiene practices in food preparation, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) processes, and preventative practices (pre-requisite programmes (PRPs)). However, additional measures to prevent the spread between food handlers, as explained below, are required in response to COVID-19.
Prevention and management of outbreaks – the role of employers
Employers and managers must take steps to support their staff to adhere to government guidance to keep the workplace safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of this advice is to:
- reduce the risk of COVID-19 cases entering the workplace
- reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading within the workplace
- reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading from the workplace to the wider community
- reduce the impact of COVID-19 on output and production from the food industry
Workplace risk assessment
COVID-19 is a new risk that must be incorporated into workplace risk assessments. Employers must therefore carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment if they have not already done so. This will enable employers to mitigate and manage the potential risks posed by COVID-19 for their employees and their businesses. The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance to help employers conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment.
It is vital that employers play their part by:
- reducing risk to an acceptable level through implementing the recommendations in this and other relevant guidance that applies to your workplace
- encouraging and enabling workers to follow any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation
The NHS Test and Trace service is key to helping manage the risk of COVID-19 spreading further in the community and in workplaces. It is essential that you take steps to enable your staff to comply with the requirements of the NHS Test and Trace service.
Where the enforcing authority, such as the HSE or your local authority, identifies employers who are not taking action to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, they are empowered to take a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks. For example, this would cover employers not taking appropriate action to ensure social distancing, where possible.
Failure to complete a risk assessment which takes account of COVID-19, or completing a risk assessment but failing to put in place sufficient measures to manage the risk of COVID-19, could constitute a breach of health and safety law. The actions the enforcing authority can take include the provision of specific advice to employers to support them to achieve the required standard, through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements. Serious breaches and failure to comply with enforcement notices can constitute a criminal offence, with serious fines and even imprisonment for up to 2 years. There is also a wider system of enforcement, which includes specific obligations and conditions for licensed premises.
Employers are expected to respond to any advice or notices issued by enforcing authorities rapidly and are required to do so within any timescales imposed by the enforcing authorities. The vast majority of employers are responsible and will join with the UK’s fight against COVID-19 by working with the government and their sector bodies to protect their workers and the public. However, inspectors are carrying out compliance checks nationwide to ensure that employers are taking the necessary steps.
Communication with employees
Communication with employees should be a high priority, and could include:
- visual messages, with use of pictures of good and bad practice, in addition to written information
- frequent updates of communication (weekly is suggested) to prevent it becoming stale. Regular communication even if there is little new to share, is important to reinforce key messages and prevent false information from circulating
- live communication, TV screens, and digital signs where feasible
- translation of communication into the preferred languages of employees wherever English is not the first language
Accommodation and Transport
Where you are responsible for providing accommodation and transport to the workplace for staff, the following considerations are recommended.
Shared accommodation is not recommended with the current risk of COVID-19.
Every effort should be made to secure single occupancy accommodation for workers. If this is not possible, occupancy in each shared space should be as low as possible.
Scheduled access to shared spaces such as kitchens and living areas in the provided accommodation to limit crowding and promote social distancing.
Where possible, workers in a shared residential accommodation should also be within the same cohort in the workplace (see cohort approach below).
Make arrangements for back-up single occupancy accommodation to allow workers who become unwell to self-isolate.
Transport arrangements should be in line with published guidance when transporting workers from their accommodation to place of work.
Where possible, shared transport should be avoided, but if unavoidable:
- efforts should be made to minimise the number of workers in each vehicle. Consider multiple trips with fewer persons
- consider cohorting workers who share accommodation and work area (see cohort approach below)
- consider if face coverings should be worn in shared transport as required for public transport. Guidance on face coverings is available
- following government guidance, workers who are unwell should stay at home and should not use shared transport or go to work. Consider using visible marshals to ensure unwell staff do not board shared transport. Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 in transit should be taken off the shared transport, returned to their accommodation and be supported to follow the stay at home guidance
- advice on additional cleaning measures for vehicles when a person has fallen ill can be found at cleaning of non-healthcare settings
Managing entry into a food production site or area
Hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser should be available at the entry site.
Ensure social distancing of 2 metres while awaiting entry.
Consider staggering shift starting times to minimise crowding at entry points and ensure social distancing, including in social areas, canteens and rest rooms.
Limit opportunities for contact between staff permanently based at the workplace and transient staff such as hauliers, transport staff and contractors. Further information can be found at Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19).
Limit unnecessary visits to the site.
Consider designating managers or senior staff to act as visible marshals to supervise entry points.
Ensure staff are dressed in an agreed and approved manner – any PPE, work wear, face coverings are issued and/or approved by you as not introducing a hazard to food safety.
Throughout the facility
Hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser should be provided throughout the workplace. Hand hygiene stations should be regularly checked and supplies replenished.
Hand hygiene should be promoted at all entry points to the workplace and between different sections in the workplace.
Hand hygiene should be promoted at break times and between shifts. Notices should be placed to promote this. Consider the use of visible marshals.
Avoid queues at all times by staggering breaks and shift changeovers.
Wherever possible, social distancing of 2 metres between workers must be facilitated, both when working alongside each other and when working face-to-face. If belts are narrower than 2 metres, face-to-face working should be avoided.
Wherever possible, avoid shoulder-to-shoulder working on production lines or in offices.
Respiratory hygiene must be promoted at all times – coughing and/or sneezing into a tissue and disposing of it immediately or coughing and/or sneezing into the crook of the elbow followed by hand washing. Display information in appropriate languages throughout the workplace.
Where social distancing of 2 metres cannot be implemented consider whether further mitigation measures such as redesigning the task or adding physical barriers can be considered. If not, PPE, or face coverings are required to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Consider use of CCTV as an aid to assist with monitoring compliance with social distancing and hygiene measures, including in communal areas outside the main workspace.
Maintaining social distancing within the workplace
Consider reducing staffing density in the workplace by:
- staggering shift start and end times
- reducing the number of workers per shift if possible
- creating a break between shifts supported by visible marshalling to minimise overlap and to enable effective cleaning of the working areas
Due to potential difficulties in maintaining social distancing, COVID-19 transmission may be a particular concern in communal areas, in particular: smoking areas, canteens, rest areas, toilets and locker rooms.
You should undertake the following actions:
- ensure handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser are available at the entrance to all communal areas
- increase the frequency of cleaning, especially surfaces that are regularly touched by hand, such as tables tops, drinks levers, keypads, grab-rails, elevator buttons, light switches, door handles
- increase visible monitoring and its enforcement by management. It is strongly recommended that there should be visible marshalling by dedicated staff at all points where staff may congregate or at ‘pinch’ points where people flow into the building
- make social distancing more manageable by increasing the amount of existing communal space that can be used to support improved social distancing measures. Consider measures such as greater use of outdoor space, marquees, or other temporary structures where feasible
- establish improved documentation (standard operating procedures) for the cleaning and checking of all communal areas in the same way that HACCP applies in production areas
You should conduct regular appropriate reviews to identify areas for improvement and to guide individuals not following best practice
Staff canteens and restaurants
Hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser must be available at the entrance to canteens and its use should be supervised.
Break times should be staggered to ensure no overcrowding, so that staff can adhere to social distancing rules.
Queue points on the floor should be clearly marked to ensure social distancing is possible.
There must not be any sharing of food and drink by staff who do not share a household.
As far as possible, food served and/or displayed should be individually wrapped to avoid any contamination.
Increase the frequency of cleaning, especially hand touch surfaces, such as tables tops, drinks levers, keypads, grab-rails, elevator buttons, light switches, door handles, plates or cutlery, and any surface or item which is designed to be, or has a high likelihood of being touched.
Canteens and restaurants should be thoroughly cleaned after each group of staff use them.
All doors and windows should remain open wherever possible to allow greater ventilation and prevent touching of window handles (subject to appropriate fly screening).
A system to reduce the use of cash for food or to facilitate the exclusive use of debit cards should be considered.
Where possible, cohorts of workers should be matched to zoned canteen areas (see below for description of cohort working).
Locker rooms and toilets
Systematic, more frequent and effective cleaning of locker rooms and toilets should be implemented, verified and documented. Emphasis should be on hand touch surfaces such as taps, door handles and flush handles.
If social distancing is not possible in locker rooms, consider using more space, for example, erecting temporary or prefabricated additional space.
Steps that will usually be needed to ensure and promote good hygiene, social distancing, and cleanliness in toilet facilities include:
- using signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency and to avoid touching your face, and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available
- consider the use of social distancing marking in areas where queues normally form, and the adoption of a limited entry approach, with one in, one out (whilst avoiding the creation of additional bottlenecks)
- to enable good hand hygiene consider making hand sanitiser available on entry to toilets where safe and practical, and ensure suitable handwashing facilities including running water and liquid soap and suitable options for drying (either paper towels or hand driers) are available
- setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets, with increased frequency of cleaning in line with usage. Use normal cleaning products, paying attention to frequently hand touched surfaces, and consider use of disposable cloths or paper roll to clean all hard surfaces
- keep the facilities well ventilated, for example by fixing doors open where appropriate
- special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets and larger toilet blocks
- putting up a visible cleaning schedule that can be kept up to date
- providing more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection
Wherever possible employees should be organised into cohorts or groups built around natural work teams. Cohorts work together, take their breaks together, change together, and travel together if relevant. If one person then becomes infected this increases the ability for only members of that particular cohort to be excluded and facilitates the smoother running of the facility.
Consider creating cohorts or groups of staff to minimise contact and reduce potential transmission. Cleaning should also be scheduled around zones and cohort lines.
Within designated work areas and work stations
Office staff should work from home where possible
Face-to-face meetings should be minimised and replaced with virtual meetings where possible. This may not be practical for meetings with plant staff. Where other communications are not suitable social distancing measures should be implemented.
COVID-19-specific management meetings should be put in place and should take place regularly.
If possible, consider setting production at a level that allows social distancing to be put in place.
Start times should be staggered to enable effective social distancing.
Consider the possibility of reducing the number of workers per shift.
There should be a break in the time between the end of one shift and the start of another. This will help to ensure social distancing between workers entering and leaving, and will allow for effective cleaning of the working area.
Notice boards and television units should display information on COVID-19, particularly on hand hygiene, social distancing and respiratory hygiene. Infographics and appropriate languages should be used where possible.
Supermarkets need to avoid crowding and create adequate spacing between individuals. Effective measures to support this will vary by store and location but could include:
- monitoring the number of customers within store and limiting access to avoid congestion
- implementing queue management systems to limit crowds gathering at entrances and maintain the 2 metres distance
- reminding customers to only buy what they need
- using screens or barriers to separate people from each other, where feasible
See information on working safely in supermarkets and shops.
See information on takeaways and restaurants offering a pick-up service.
Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the workplace
Case development within the workplace
If a member of staff has helped someone who has developed symptoms of COVID-19, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell with symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection. If the person who has been sent home is subsequently confirmed as having COVID-19, they may be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and asked to self-isolate.
It is not necessary to close the business or workplace or send any staff home unless you are advised to do so following investigation by NHS Test and Trace. You should keep monitoring the government response to COVID-19 for further updates.
Contact tracing: contact with co-workers
Contact tracing is an important step in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
When someone develops symptoms of COVID-19, they should order themselves a test and alert people they have been in close contact with in the 48 hours before symptom onset. If any of those close contacts are co-workers, the person who has developed symptoms may wish to (but is not obliged to) ask their employer to alert those co-workers.
The NHS Test and Trace service will follow up with people who need to self-isolate because they have had recent close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. More detailed guidance on the NHS Test and Trace service for employers, businesses and workers is available. If someone who has tested positive has recently visited or attended a food business, the contact tracing process will be escalated to the local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team, who will liaise as necessary with the manager of that facility.
Supporting workers who need to self-isolate
As described in the NHS Test and Trace workplace guidance, you should support workers who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace if they have been advised to stay at home.
You should ensure:
- a business continuity plan is prepared and updated
- a single point of contact (SPOC) is nominated. This will ensure that the correct contact point for outbreak management is identified in advance of any outbreak. This individual will lead on liaisons with local Public Health teams.
Multiple cases in the workplace
If there is more than one case of COVID-19 associated with your workplace, you should contact your local PHE health protection team to report the suspected outbreak.
If the local PHE health protection team declares an outbreak in the setting, you will be asked to record details of symptomatic staff and assist with identification of contacts. You should therefore ensure all employment records are up to date. You will be provided with information about the outbreak management process, which will help you to implement control measures, assist with communications to staff, and reinforce prevention messages.
Food hygiene guidance
A Food Safety Management System (FSMS) that includes existing food hygiene guidance and HACCP processes should be followed.
Where you have made changes to your routine ways of working in response to COVID-19 it is important to review your HACCP procedures to consider and reflect any impact from these changes on food safety. The FSA has provided guidance for food businesses on adapting and reopening due to COVID-19.You should stress the importance of more frequent hand washing and maintaining good hygiene practices in food preparation and handling areas. This should be done routinely, before and after handling food or catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue or the crook of your elbow.
The FSA guidance on good hygiene practices in food preparation and their HACCP processes guidance is intended to ensure staff follow good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of disease to food. Key safety points include being fit for work, washing hands and wearing aprons or other clean clothing as appropriate. Individuals returning to work after an absence of 2 or more days for whatever reason will benefit from a screening process for fitness to work using a monitored screening questionnaire such as the full Fit to Work guidance which has a sample questionnaire as Annex 3. Another useful resource is the PHE flowchart describing steps to consider on return to work following a SARS-CoV-2 test if relevant.
The FSA Safe Method checklist allows employers to assess the personal hygiene and fitness to work practices in their workplace.
Cleaning and waste disposal
Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products.