Few could have predicted the impact the Covid-19 outbreak would have on the food and catering industry. Many food businesses find themselves busier than ever, trying to feed the nation and ensure products are delivered safely – both for their customers and for their staff.
We have been asked for practical advice and steps that organisations can make, and how organisations can ensure their staff are properly trained and supported to deliver good quality products, all while working in a good food safety culture – even when many may be new to the sector, or new to the business.
When considering this, we look at the three things businesses need to do – they need to ensure their survival, deal with the issue and get the most out of a difficult situation.
Some food businesses simply won’t be able to operate under the current circumstances – they should reduce spending to a minimum, and look at which of the government’s support packages, such as furlough, are suitable for their business. Companies also need to talk to their banks, accountant and council on what’s available to reduce the financial burden such as rent and loan payment holidays. Remember, ‘shy bairns get nowt’ so do ask.
Some food businesses may be able to diversify and remain able to safely operate, so do look at your options there. Make sure you communicate with people clearly, both your staff and your customers. This is a stressful time for them too. Do try to be flexible wherever you can be. Flexibility and everyone pulling in the same direction is key to getting through this situation.
Make sure you carry out a risk assessment. There are simple templates available to use for this, but they should look at the risks people pose coming in and out of the building (ie, wherever people can work from home, they should). All staff and customers must wash hands on entering the premises, and business owners must think about how you’ll greet your suppliers and handle deliveries.
Reducing cross contamination is essential, so make sure you’ve considered how you’ll handle utensils, credit card machines, phones etc. and make sure they are regularly sanitized. Social distancing of 2 meters also needs to be applied, which may require changing working practices where possible.
Once you have them in place, go through these controls with your staff and agree on them, then develop any specific safe systems of work needed.
The risk assessment and safe systems of work must be communicated to staff, and it is also good practice to display risk assessments and safe systems so that all your staff can see them.
In this difficult situation, there are different things a food business can do if they are not able to operate, or have to operate in different circumstances. Staff can access a wide range of online training which they can complete on a laptop, tablet or phone. Therefore it might be a good time to undertake maintenance activities or update management systems.
If you are employing new staff members to help you meet increased demand, online food safety courses, which can also be completed on laptop, tablet or phone, are available and offer a fast and efficient way to have your team ready to work with food – helping ensure their, your customers’ and your business’ safety.
By John Husband