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Food businesses and COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Updated: 14 January 2022

Key points

  • COVID-19 is not a foodborne disease. See the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods opinion on SARS-CoV-2 and its relationship to food safety
  • Businesses are encouraged to complete a COVID-19 Safety Plan to assess and manage the risk of COVID-19  to workers and others in the work environment. Search COVID-19 Safety Plans by industry
  • Businesses must notify SafeWork if a worker has contracted COVID-19 at work, or was likely infectious in the workplace.
  • Businesses need to review their operation and consider what other measures should be implemented to reduce the impact of COVID-19
  • Businesses with good preparations and procedures in place can minimise the impact of an employee diagnosed with COVID-19

Food safety aspects of COVID-19

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Currently there is no evidence of foodborne transmission being a significant pathway. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) provides further advice about this.

There are no direct food safety measures as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Like SARS and MERS, COVID-19 is spread via person-to-person transmission (coughing, contaminated surfaces and fomites, and close contact with an infected individual). More information for businesses can be found on the NSW COVID-19 website.

The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect your business is through good hygiene practices. At a minimum, businesses must adhere to existing requirements of food laws, specifically:

  • Maintain and practice frequent hand washing when preparing foods, after going to the bathroom, and after touching the face or hair
  • Maintain thorough cleaning and sanitising of facilities, equipment, and transport vehicles (including food contact surfaces and equipment, but also door handles, light switches, floors, walls, and other 'high touch' areas)
    • Thoroughly cleaning surfaces with water and detergent and applying normally used cleaning agents is sufficient
    • Consider whether aspects of the Australian Government guidelines for cleaning will add anything to your standard procedures for cleaning and disinfection of the premises
  • Maintain strict requirements around worker health and hygiene. All staff should be trained in personal hygiene and how to wash their hands properly. Posters are available to display at handwashing stations in your business.
  • Any worker with a suspected communicable disease (such as coughing, sneezing, flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal illness) MUST be excluded from the workplace. It is recommended that the health of all employees is reviewed on a daily basis and any workers showing these symptoms are sent home or advised not to come to work.
    • Follow the NSW Health recommendations regarding self-isolation of individuals who are considered to be a risk.
  • Consider if there are any higher risk activities in your business that need to be managed and implement appropriate risk management strategies. For example, if you have face-to-face contact with customers, encourage social distancing and have hand sanitiser available for use.

There are penalties under existing food legislation for businesses not complying with adequate cleaning and sanitising requirements.

Workforce impacts

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While there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted via food, there is no immunity in the general human population and the disease is highly infectious. Businesses should adopt practical measures to reduce the risk of spread between staff or to the general public.

What measures can I take to protect my workforce?

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Ensure you have reviewed the guidance to help NSW workplaces stay safe at work during COVID-10 from SafeWork NSW.

The following highlights some of the key for food businesses.

Review the health status of staff

All staff should understand the importance of not working while sick. Even if they are only showing one symptom, they should get tested and self-isolate straight away.

Businesses and workers must comply with NSW Government COVID-19 rules.  

Reinforce good hand hygiene

Proper hand washing is one of the most effective tools in preventing the spread of novel coronavirus.

Handwashing should be increased under the current circumstances (after going to the bathroom, touching your face, after handling raw food) and should be done effectively according to guidance from the Department of Health.

Additional handwashing and sanitising points should be set up throughout the business.

If a business is unable to source liquid soap or hand sanitiser, a cake or bar of soap and water are equally effective for good handwashing and hygiene.

Review the shift arrangements and social interaction of workforce

Changes to limit contact between workers will be effective in slowing down the spread of coronavirus and reduce the impact on businesses that have a staff member positive for COVID-19.

Increase time between shifts or service periods (e.g. breakfast and lunch; day/night shifts) to minimise staff interaction and allow for increased cleaning

Separation of shifts will allow greater time for cleaning and sanitising (e.g. equipment, surfaces, common areas such as lunchrooms, dining areas) to minimise the likelihood of spread between staff or patrons that test positive or may have come into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Limit the number of people in contact on a production floor or kitchen, where possible

In production areas or within staff teams, have the same people stand or work next to one another each day. This will limit the spread of novel coronavirus between staff should infection occur.

Minimise the overlapping of shifts/rosters as much as possible.

Reassure staff where possible

Check-in with staff on a regular basis to review their welfare and address any concerns as quickly as possible.

Staff should be encouraged to be open about symptoms and express any concerns around personal circumstances if they need to go into isolation, including job security. There is a risk they may continue to work while infectious if they believe their job security is threatened.

Precautionary approaches

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A customer or other individual enters my business and is displaying cold/flu symptoms. Can I refuse them service?

All members of the public have an obligation to stay at home while displaying any symptoms such as fever or coughing. Businesses have the right to refuse service and insist that anyone with these symptoms leaves the premises.

A customer or other individual wants to enter my business and is not vaccinated. Can I refuse them entry?

Refer to advice from NSW Health regarding your rights and responsibilities in relation to an unvaccinated person wishing to enter your premises.

A worker is waiting for the outcome of a test for COVID-19. Should they be excluded from work?

Any worker waiting for the outcome of a COVID-19 test should isolate as per the NSW Health COVID-19 self-isolation guideline.

What happens if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?

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Protection of public health is paramount and isolation of confirmed cases and close contacts is essential to prevent further illness, risk to human life, and associated burden on health resources.

If you run a business, you must notify SafeWork on 13 10 50 if a worker has contracted COVID-19 at work, was likely infectious in the workplace, or attended the workplace while infected with COVID-19.

For more information, follow NSW Health’s Guidance for businesses with a worker who tests positive for COVID-19.

Will there be changes to food safety inspections/audits?

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Maintaining confidence and oversight in the high level of food safety in the food supply continues to be a significant priority for the Australian food regulators and the Australian food regulation system.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries and the NSW Food Authority (the Department) are continuing to monitor the rapidly changing circumstances and associated impacts of COVID-19 while working to protect our staff and licensed businesses.  Any changes to audits/inspections will be communicated directly to those affected.

Changes to planning rules for food trucks and ‘dark kitchens’ during the COVID-19 crisis

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Changes to food truck and 'dark kitchen' operations have been approved during the COVID-19 crisis.

This Order allows:

  • food trucks to operate on any land at any time, with the landholder’s permission.
  • ‘dark kitchens’ to be established in any existing commercial kitchen, such as those in community facilities, business premises, cooking schools and function centres, to allow for the preparation of food and meals to be delivered to those at home, in self isolation, or working on the frontline. Dark kitchens are also known as virtual kitchens, cloud kitchens, and ghost kitchens – cook meals solely for delivery, rather than eat-in diners.

All other conditions including not obstructing vehicle or pedestrian access and taking steps to reduce noise still apply.

While the Order is in place, all existing requirements under the Food Act 2003 (NSW) continue to apply:

Notification of operation to Councils

New retail food businesses must notify their local Council about the operation of their business and food activity details as a requirement under the Food Act 2003 (NSW).
 
Notification of operations to the Food Authority

New food businesses who manufacture, wholesale or distribute to other food businesses, must notify the Food Authority. Learn more about notification requirements for food businesses here.

Serving food to vulnerable persons

Notification allows a mobile food vendor to sell and deliver food to most in the community, however NSW businesses that serve food to vulnerable persons must meet specific additional food standards set out in the Food Regulation 2015 (NSW) Vulnerable Persons Food Safety Scheme.

Businesses delivering food to an aged care facility must apply for a Food Authority licence online (or download a form, print and post it) (for assistance see the licence application guide).  

Other requirements

Food Safety Supervisor (FSS)

Food businesses, including those operating mobile food vending vehicles and ‘dark kitchens’, may need to appoint a FSS if the food they prepare and serve is:

  • ready-to-eat
  • potentially hazardous, for example, needs temperature control
  • is not sold and served in the supplier's original package.

Learn about FSS training requirements on the Food Safety Supervisor page.

Mobile Food Vendors

Mobile food operators are considered a retail food business and must comply with all food safety standards. More information is available on the Mobile food vendors page.

Existing Commercial Kitchens

Appropriate food handling practices to ensure the sale of food that is safe to eat must continue to be observed.

New domestic kitchens are considered a retail food business and must comply with all food safety standards. More information is available on the Home-based business page.

Operators of domestic premises need to pay particular attention to the following to ensure:

  • adequate hand washing facilities are available - check with local council on what is considered adequate
  • food is kept protected from pests and vermin at all stages, including storage of ingredients
  • premises are designed to exclude pests where practical
  • adequate refrigeration capacity is essential - overloading domestic refrigerators and constantly opening the door means food takes longer to cool and harmful microorganisms have more chance to grow
  • refrigerate foods in small portions to allow proper cooling
  • refrigerated foods should be kept below 5°C.  

Operating a food delivery service from a domestic kitchen has additional requirements and obligations outside the scope of food legislation. Please check with your local council for more information.

Labelling Requirements

All food businesses, including mobile food vendors and domestic kitchens packaging food for sale, must ensure that the foods they sell meet the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code for labelling and information requirements.

Food businesses in NSW must also provide allergen information in food by either:

  • declaring allergens on the label (usually in the ingredient list)
  • displaying information about allergens next to food on sale (if it’s not packaged)
  • providing information about food allergens in food if requested by a customer.

COVID-19

Businesses are required to keep their premises safe and minimise the risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect your business is through good hygiene practices. At a minimum, businesses must adhere to existing requirements of food laws.

All food businesses must also ensure employees and customers comply with all rules and restrictions that apply to businesses throughout NSW, as well as other recommended public health practices.

Although the public health orders now permit entry to businesses for people who are not fully vaccinated, some businesses may make it a condition of entry that you are fully vaccinated or wear a face mask.

SafeWork NSW considers vaccination a high order risk control measure against disease.

NSW Health strongly advises people get fully vaccinated and wear a face mask where they cannot socially distance.

Food processing plants and manufacturing businesses

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The meat and food processing sector has been identified as representing a high risk for the transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

To keep workers, visitors and customers safe, the NSW Government has developed a set of industry guidelines for COVID Safe workplaces to assist businesses and organisations create and follow a COVID-19 Safety Plan.

There are industry specific guidelines available for food processing and manufacturing businesses and for abattoirs and the meat processing industry.

The Workplace Health Management Plan Template (PDF, 393.67 KB) has been developed to help employers and employees understand how to work safely during a human health event that impacts the workforce, such as COVID-19.

Abattoirs and the meat processing industry

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NSW Health in consultation with SafeWork NSW and the NSW Department of Primary Industries developed an Incident Action Plan (IAP) for the meat processing industry to raise preparedness in the event of an outbreak.

The Incident Action Plan and Guideline provides the detail about how business can prepare for and prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 and how a local health authority will engage with the business. Meat processing facility Incident Action Plan for a confirmed case of COVID-19 (PDF, 384KB)

The Animal Welfare and Business Continuity Self-Assessment (PDF, 281.93 KB) and the Workplace Health Management Plan Template (PDF, 393.67 KB) are available to support the meat processing sector.

COVID-19 Case Studies

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Feedback from industry has suggested that sharing learnings from COVID-19 affected businesses are extremely powerful to improve COVID-19 risk management across primary industry sectors. Several case studies have been developed which represent actual NSW businesses that NSW DPI has worked with to manage COVID-19 incidents.

You can view the case studies here. Business names have been removed to maintain confidentiality.

Preparing to recommence operations

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It is important that food businesses (such as cafes and restaurants) are well prepared to recommence modified business operations after closure.

Before you recommence operations, particularly serving customers on-site, you should check for current NSW Government advice regarding business restrictions and whether any additional specific guidelines or requirements to recommence food business operations in NSW have been applied. 

To assist your preparation, food regulators have developed a voluntary checklist for food businesses in all states and territories who are preparing to recommence operations. Food businesses should use the checklist to make sure they are ready to recommence operations.

The checklist is available on the FSANZ website and can be downloaded from the following link – Food safety checks for food businesses (such as cafes and restaurants) preparing to recommence pre-restriction operations.

All food businesses must continue to comply with existing requirements under the Food Standards Code, with particular vigilance on maintaining good hygiene practices. That includes checking fridges and freezers are still working, thermometers read properly and that allergen information you provide remains accurate. Staff who report symptoms of illness should stay at home and seek medical advice.


 

For more information