COVID-19 Restaurant Resources

Food Safety & COVID-19: What Restaurants Need to Know

By Carly Albright

chef chopping herbs wearing gloves
chef wearing gloves slices focaccia bread

Your restaurant was likely humming with energy and serving a full house on Valentine’s Day – which wasn’t all that long ago. Restaurant food safety was second nature in your kitchen’s training and daily practises, but they may not have been the number one thing on everyone’s mind. Not like now.

Fast forward a few weeks and restaurateurs worldwide have been forced to adapt to the necessary social distancing practices. This unprecedented situation has many people (rightfully) concerned for their health and unsure of whether it’s truly safe to order food from the neighbourhood restaurant that they’d otherwise love to support.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Why it’s imperative for restaurateurs to be vigilant about food safety – especially now
  • Restaurant food safety guidelines to help you adapt to the shifting social and economic climate in the face of COVID-19
  • Where restaurateurs can find more information on food safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
chef washing vegetables

Why Safe Food Handling Is Crucial to Help Prevent COVID-19

All restaurateurs have an obligation to protect public health by following proper food safety standards in the best of times. Getting the official credentials is essential to fulfil that obligation, which means you should get a food service license and food hygiene certificate. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that responsibility has become even greater.

Thankfully, there is currently no evidence of COVID-19 transmission via food or food packaging, according to the official UK government guidance. However, the coronavirus may be able to survive on objects or surfaces, which is one of several reasons why it’s essential to ensure that your restaurant – and your food – is safe for your guests and employees.

Your guests are the heartbeat of your business, and the good news is that they want to support you through this challenging time of social distancing. By communicating your food safety practices clearly and often, you’ll make it easier for your guests to feel confident ordering meals from you. 

In addition to reassuring your guests that you’re going above and beyond to protect them, you must also ensure that your staff feel safe coming into work. Your team needs to know they can rely on you to prioritise their health and steward them through this crisis.

There’s no doubt that doubling down on food safety helps limit the spread of illness. But, it also makes social distancing a little less difficult for your community when they can still look forward to enjoying takeaway from their favourite restaurants.

hand washing with soap

7 Restaurant Food Safety Tips You Should Implement Now

1. Send Staff Home If They Show Symptoms

Food safety starts with the people who are preparing and serving meals. You must lead by example if you want your restaurant employees to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. If any of your staff have cold symptoms – even mild ones – send them home. 

The official guidance from the NHS dictates that people with flu-like symptoms who haven’t yet been tested for COVID-19 should stay home from work and self-isolate for seven full days. After that first week, if the fever and high temperature has passed, they can stop self-isolating. 

You may be required to offer sick leave pay to your staff through Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), which is currently £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks. If you do have furlough employees, you may be eligible to apply for a grant through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The scheme vows to cover 80% of usual employee wages, up to £2,500 a month (plus any applicable Employer National Insurance contributions and pension contributions), for three months starting 1 March 2020. Be sure to check government guidance before making this decision (keep in mind, these programs are updated on a regular basis).

Beyond what’s legally required, you don’t want anyone feeling like they have to rush back to work before they’re healthy in order to pay their bills. You should also ensure that your employees know where to access information about COVID-19 testing and government financial assistance programs.

2. Make Handwashing Mandatory

Forget simply encouraging extra handwashing. Now is the time to make handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds mandatory in various situations, including: 

  • When staff arrive at your restaurant
  • Between each order they prepare
  • After touching shared surfaces
  • After a meal or a smoke break
  • After bathroom breaks
  • After handling money
  • After cleaning the restaurant
  • When they leave for the day

Stock your restaurant’s handwashing stations with soap and towels, and ensure that hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol is available in multiple spots around the front and back of house. Put posters up with handwashing information and remind staff verbally each day that you expect everyone to ramp up their handwashing efforts to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

3. Limit Food Handling

Personal hygiene is imperative when it comes to protecting against the coronavirus, but you can take measures a step further by limiting the number of people who handle food and food packaging in your restaurant. You may need to rethink the flow of your kitchen line if possible to have fewer staff involved in meal prep, as long as you continue to handle raw and cooked food separately

Ensure that your employees who are handling food are well versed in food safety guidelines and procedures. This might be the time to revisit what was learned when your back-of-house staff got their food handlers permit, which included personal hygiene, sanitation, food safety, allergens, and food temperature.

kitchen staff disinfecting stainless steel counter

4. Clean – And Then Clean Again

Before, during, and after shifts, now is the time to up your cleaning game. Exactly how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces hasn’t yet been confirmed – and it could vary depending on conditions – so be diligent in frequently wiping down counters and cleaning cookware, tableware, utensils, and high-contact surfaces like door handles.

5. Equip Drivers with Information and Protection

Restaurateurs can take several steps to protect their delivery drivers from exposure to the coronavirus, starting by outlining delivery instructions at the point when a customer places their order online or over the phone. 

Many restaurants and food delivery companies have begun doing contactless drop-offs to comply with social distancing. Through contactless drop-off, the customer pays in advance and the driver leaves the package of food outside the door so that two parties don’t interact.

Since diners are able to place these orders online and request contactless drop-off, it provides another layer of protection between your staff or drivers and the public – many businesses who didn’t offer online ordering before are shifting their offering for this reason. You want people to place orders without coming into the restaurant, when possible. 

You’ll want to make sure to highlight online ordering offers and new delivery practices on your website and social media channels. Ensure staff who are taking food orders are aware of the instructions and that they communicate them to customers. If you choose not to bring in your own online ordering system at your restaurant and work with a delivery app like Deliveroo, JustEat, or Uber Eats, they’ve likely already implemented these precautions.

Provide your delivery drivers with hand sanitiser and gloves to further protect them from COVID-19. Inform your drivers that if they do receive cash tips, they should wash or sanitise their hands immediately afterward. Drivers should also ask customers to use their own pen to sign any receipts, instead of lending them a pen. Or, opt for contactless payments made either over the phone with card-not-present transactions, through your website, or with a tap-enabled payment terminal.

6. Handle Packages Properly

You and your restaurant staff will inevitably have to touch some food packages to fulfil orders, and you’ll have to work together to do so safely. Adhere to social distancing by avoiding passing packages to one another. Instead, set the item down on a table, then walk away so the other person can pick it up safely.

As much as it may pain you from an environmental standpoint to use items wrapped in plastic, you should remove any loose takeaway cutlery or napkins from your restaurant. These items all hold the potential for cross-contamination. Ask guests if they need these items – if many are eating from home, they might be fine to take their order without.

7. Be Smart with Suppliers

It’s important to protect your suppliers, as well as your guests and employees. You can use the same contactless drop-off method with suppliers that you do with delivery customers. Again, limit the number of people handling these items.

Also, ask your suppliers what precautions they’re putting in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that you can communicate this information to your staff and customers.

In addition to implementing these restaurant food safety tips, look at the government guidance before finalising or communicating your restaurant’s approach to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the best sources for up-to-date information during a situation that is changing by the day.

customer with credit card in hand ordering food online

Times are tough right now, and we know you’re focused on your business, but don’t forget to take care of yourself too and try to keep your stress levels down. If you’re protecting your employees and customers by heeding food safety tips and keeping your restaurant spotless, you’re playing an important role in helping to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Remember to send any employees home who show cold symptoms, and be vigilant about handwashing and cleaning. Limit food handling and exercise proper package handling. Finally, implement contactless drop-offs with delivery drivers and suppliers if possible.

You’ve got this.

Our team is continuing to put together resources for restaurants impacted by COVID-19. If there is any topic you would like to see or story you would like to share, you can contact our resource team directly at [email protected].

by Carly Albright

Carly is the Global Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro. Her passions are eclectic and uncompromising. She is a self-declared connoisseur of chips and has travelled the world to discover its finest offerings.

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