In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many existing food businesses have diversified and adapted their business model.
Some established restaurants, pubs, bars and mobile caterers have switched to food delivery, collection-only or selling food online. This has allowed them to continue to operate during the pandemic.
As part of our Here to Help campaign we are providing support and guidance to help food businesses further adapt during COVID-19.
We have published guidance on reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19, along with a reopening checklist for food businesses. Read alongside government advice on keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19, these provide a practical framework for businesses to reopen and adapt their operation safely.
For food businesses changing their business model, it is important to understand the additional safety risks introduced by any changes. This guidance on changing your business model includes the steps you need to take to address these risks, and how to communicate these to your customers effectively.
The government has published the COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021, setting out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England.
From 12 April, hospitality venues are allowed to serve people outdoors. There is no need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks and no curfew, although customers must order, eat and drink while seated. Wider social contact rules will apply in all these settings to prevent indoor mixing between different households.
Further steps in the reopening process for England can be found in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Inform your local authority
You should inform your local authority of any changes to your registerable food activities. This includes the introduction of a new delivery or takeaway service.
The local authority may not need to inspect your new business operation, but should be informed of any changes that may introduce additional risks into your food production processes.
Food businesses which have made changes should review and, where necessary, update their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures, or HACCP-based Food Safety Management System (such as Safer food, better business, or the Safe catering pack in Northern Ireland).
In line with wider government advice, an additional risk assessment is required to address the risks of COVID-19. The Health and Safety Executive has issued guidance on how to carry out a risk assessment and what to include.
You should check that the changes you have made have not introduced any additional hazards which you are not controlling.
- document any changes you make
- document the start-up checks you undertake.
Your risk assessment should consider the impact of these changes to your usual hygiene and food safety practices.
You should make all staff aware of changes to your Food Safety Management Systems, and make sure they receive training when processes are changed. Staff should practice a high level of personal hygiene, including regular, effective hand-washing.
Selling food outdoors
Food businesses which have adapted their business to sell food in an outdoor location, such as outside the premises, should review and update their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures, or HACCP-based Food Safety Management System (such as Safer food, better business, or the Safe catering pack in Northern Ireland).
You should check that you have not introduced any additional hazards which you are not controlling. Particular consideration should be given to
- temperature controls during transport and service
- pest control
- hygiene requirements
- hand-washing facilities.
The government has provided further guidance on how to manage social distancing when providing food and drink.
Selling food online
You should have a statement on your website to advise customers where they can obtain allergen information before they place their order. If you provide food via an external online ordering website, they may have their own requirements for providing allergen information to customers.
If you are delivering food orders, all food must be delivered to consumers in a way that ensures that 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 pack or in a cool bag. Equally, food that needs to be kept hot should be packed in an insulated bag.
If you use a domestic vehicle (or a non-food industry business vehicle) to transport your food orders, we have information about the hygiene requirements and vehicle specifications that should be met.
You must provide allergen information:
- before the purchase of the food is completed - this can be in writing (on your website)
- when the food is delivered - this can be in writing (allergen stickers on food or an enclosed copy of a menu) or orally (by delivery driver).
We have further guidance available on how to provide allergen information and avoid cross-contamination in food delivery.
If you deliver food orders, it is important to select appropriate food-grade packaging. This is packaging designed for the intended use, such as the transport of hot food. This will make sure that the transported food is safe and its quality is maintained.
For example, packaging materials may be required to be liquid or fat 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 or closures will also minimise any hygiene or spillage risks.
Communicating with your customers
It is important to communicate the changes you have made to your business with your customers. Providing information about the steps you have taken to keep staff and customers safe during COVID-19 can help to provide reassurance.
The government has provided guidance for restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services which includes advice on how to communicate these changes to your customers.
Some businesses have found it useful to share videos and images of the changes they have made online or on social media. Displaying this information online means that customers are informed of expected social distancing behaviour and hygiene practices before arrival. This could also be provided through an online booking form.
You can also display posters or visual aids at your venue to set out how customers should behave to keep everyone safe. You should consider the particular information needs of those with protected characteristics, such as those who are hearing or visually impaired.
The government has produced a Staying COVID-19 Secure in 2020 notice which can be displayed once you have carried out a risk assessment. This is to show that you have complied with guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19.
Avoiding food crime
When sourcing ingredients, only purchase food from reputable suppliers. Ensure that you are fully aware of where the food has come from.
The disruptive effect of COVID-19 has introduced risks of misrepresentation and illicit supply practices to meet demand. Be vigilant when approached by businesses you have not previously had dealings with. Determine where the food has originated from before purchasing anything.
Check whether the price is in line with the current market price. Prices of products fluctuate, but be wary if suppliers are offering products at a lower price than usual.
You can report suspected food crime to the National Food Crime Unit. You can also report a business behaving unfairly, or profiteering, during COVID-19 to the Competition and Markets Authority.