covid-19 and food safty in alert level 3

COVID-19 and food safety in Alert Level 3

Advice around food safety and coronavirus and our guidance for food handlers and food businesses during Alert Level 3.

Virus transmission

Experience with recent acute respiratory diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) suggests that people are unlikely to be infected with the virus through food. There isn’t evidence to date of this happening with the 2019 Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Coronaviruses cannot grow in food – they need a host (animal or human) to grow in. Cooking for at least 30 minutes at 60°C kills SARS, which is a similar coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are most commonly passed between animals and people and from person-to-person contact.

The virus is commonly transmitted through direct mucous membrane contact by infectious droplets, e.g. breathing in airborne virus from the sneeze of someone who is infected, or through hand to mouth/nose contact after fingers have touched a contaminated surface.

What can food business owners/managers do to manage the COVID-19 risk?

Throughout the outbreak of COVID-19, we are seeing important implications for food safety within the food and beverage industry.

Under Level 3, all primary sector businesses and support services can operate, as long as they can operate safely.

Good hygiene

It is more important than ever that food businesses apply strict food preparation and hygiene practices.

In addition, if you are an employer, we ask that you:

  • make sure staff are aware of the symptoms of COVID-19, and how they can self-isolate if the need arises
  • ensure that food handlers are trained appropriately in food hygiene practices appropriate to their premises
  • ensure effective supervision of food handlers to reinforce hygienic practices
  • ensure that appropriate facilities are provided for hand washing or sanitation (e.g. alcohol gels/wipes) to enable food handlers to practice good hygiene
  • ensure that food handlers and external contractors are aware that they must report any signs/symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work
  • be vigilant and ensure that food handlers and other staff are not ill and are fit to work
  • ensure that staff with symptoms stay home until medical advice is obtained and they are cleared to return to work
  • make sure you are aware of staff who have recently returned from overseas 
  • should not require or knowingly allow workers to come to a workplace when they are sick with COVID-19, or if they have been advised to self-isolate under public health guidelines for COVID-19.

Scheduled food verification

Food verification services are essential services to support businesses during Alert Level 3 It’s very important that these continue during the COVID-19 response to make sure food safety is managed properly.

Advice for food handlers

Food handlers at businesses and at home should continue to follow standard, good personal hygiene practices that reduce the risk of transmission of most foodborne illnesses.

All the rules regarding food safety and hygiene still apply. It is more important than ever that these practices are maintained to reduce the risk.

Good practices include:

  • regularly washing and thoroughly drying hands
  • using clean utensils to handle cooked and ready-to-eat foods, and not touching the food directly
  • not coughing or sneezing over food
  • avoiding touching your nose, mouth and hair when preparing or serving food
  • keeping people who are coughing and sneezing away from food
  • avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

The rules for hand washing don’t change – food handlers need to wash hands (even if they have no disease symptoms):

  • when starting work
  • before preparing or handling cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • after handling or preparing raw food
  • after handling waste food or rubbish
  • after cleaning duties
  • after using the toilet
  • after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing
  • after eating, drinking, or smoking
  • after handling money
  • after touching items/furniture/fittings.

Good hygiene and cleaning will also prevent cross-contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the kitchen or service area.

It is important that food handlers inform their employer, avoid preparing food for other people, and seek medical advice if they think they have symptoms of respiratory illness.

If staff have been overseas to affected regions or in contact with persons who have, they are expected to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival to New Zealand.

Extra measures food manufacturers can take to protect their staff from illness

Where businesses want to take extra measures to protect their staff and customers, they should do so in line with Ministry of Health advice on social/physical distancing and limiting the spread of the virus.

This includes communicating staff sickness policies to employees, and ensuring staff hygiene, cleaning and sanitation processes continue on the factory floor.

Ensure all contractors, visitors, delivery drivers coming into your plant follow Ministry of Health guidelines.

Other measures in line with the Ministry of Health’s advice on limiting the spread of the virus include sanitising shared equipment like forklifts, pallet jacks, box strappers and other equipment staff will touch directly throughout the day.

For communal areas, like canteens and break rooms, these extra precautions are in line with Ministry of Health advice:

  • Increase the frequency of disinfecting touch-points on point of sale terminals, EFTPOS machines, door handles and other frequently-touched surfaces
  • Sanitise chairs and tables frequently and between shifts
  • Make hand sanitisers available
  • Everyone at your business practicing frequent and thorough hand washing.
  • Self-serve buffets and high-use utensils (tongs, serving spoons) taken out of use for the duration of COVID-19

Can home kill operators continue to operate?

Yes, home kill operators can operate with social distancing and no retail sales to the public.

However mobile operators who are high risk (over 70-years-old, pregnant, or underlying health conditions) or are not well should not visit customers during this time. Customers who are in this high-risk group should also heed this advice and avoid contact outside their bubble.

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