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Coronavirus and Food safety

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Read more information on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and food from the European Food Safety AuthorityIn response to the evolving COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, the FSAI is monitoring the situation closely and is following official Government advice. Our staff are either working from home or from the office. We have cancelled all meetings for the moment and these will be rescheduled either in the future or held by some other means (e.g. teleconference).

Food Safety

We will continue to review the situation regularly and update, as appropriate. Our focus is to continue to operate business as usual, where possible, whilst protecting the health of our staff and our colleagues.

Our advice-line and reception are operating by email only.

Our out-of-hours emergency contact details continue to operate as normal.

Can COVID-19 (coronavirus) be passed on through food?

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is passed on through food.

Coronaviruses need a host (animal or human) to grow in and cannot grow in food. Thorough cooking is expected to kill the virus.

Read more information on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and food from the European Food Safety Authority

Is there a risk to consumers from ‘open’ food?

As usual, it is important to maintain good hygiene practices around open food (e.g. unpackaged bread, cakes etc.).

However, it is possible that infected food workers and/or consumers could introduce the virus to food, by coughing and sneezing, or through hand contact. It is therefore important that they strictly follow good personal hygiene practices. Customers and food businesses are expected to behave in a hygienic manner and food business are obliged to monitor such displays.

Food is not directly involved in the transmission of COVID-19. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. Hence the advice to public and staff alike is to wash your hands.

How is COVID-19 (coronavirus) passed on?

Coronaviruses are most commonly passed between animals and people and from person to person. The source of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is believed to be animals, but the exact source is not yet known.

The virus is commonly passed on:

  • directly, through contact with an infected person’s body fluids (for example, droplets from coughing or sneezing)
  • indirectly, through contact with surfaces that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on

Current information suggests that the virus may survive a few hours, or even days, on certain surfaces. Simple household disinfectants can kill it.

What can food workers do?

It is possible that infected food workers could introduce virus to the food they are working on, or onto surfaces within the food business, by coughing and sneezing, or through hand contact, unless they strictly follow good personal hygiene practices.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that standard recommendations to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are maintained. These include:

  • proper hand hygiene
  • cough/cold hygiene practices
  • safe food practices
  • avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing

In addition, the HSE are advising ‘social distancing’ to help slow the spread of coronavirus. See more information on social distancing on the HSE website

Food workers must wash hands:

  • before starting work
  • after coughing, sneezing or blowing nose
  • before handling cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • after handling or preparing raw food
  • after handling waste
  • after cleaning duties
  • after using the toilet
  • after eating, drinking or smoking
  • after handling money

Get more information on proper hand washing and use of gloves

Good hygiene and cleaning are also important to avoid cross-contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the kitchen.

What can food business owners/managers do?

The Irish Government has advised that people should work from home where possible.

Where employees must attend work the HSE have recommended that social distancing is implemented to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Food business owners should ensure that staff are aware of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation and the advice being given by the HSE in relation to symptoms, social distancing, restricted movement, self-isolation and travel.

However, food business owners (FBOs) should remember that they have particular responsibilities under food law and must maintain proper hygiene practices at all times.

They should, in general:

  • ensure that staff are trained appropriately in food hygiene
  • ensure effective supervision of staff to reinforce hygienic practices
  • provide the correct facilities e.g. hand washing, toilets, to enable staff to practice good hygiene
  • ensure staff and contractors report any physical signs/symptoms, before commencing work or while in the workplace.
  • keep vigilant and ensure that staff are not ill and are fit to work

Employers can use this fitness to work form to assess staff who they believe are ill.

The WHO has guidance on getting your workplace ready for COVID-19

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment have information on business continuity planning

What should food business owners/managers do if they have a supply chain problem caused by COVID-19?

Infections of staff with COVID-19 (coronavirus) in food businesses around the world may lead to disruption of the food supply chain where certain ingredients and packaging may be in short supply.

Food businesses may be considering some of the following:

  • leaving out or substituting ingredients in a product, and/or
  • changing their packaging, and/or
  • changing their process

In these situations, It is important that food businesses remember their legal obligations to only place safe food on the market.

Any change to product, packaging or processing requires a full review of the business’ food safety management system (GHP and HACCP).

This will allow them to:

  • risk assess any food safety issues that could result from the proposed changes
  • put in place controls to manage any risks identified
  • document the changes

Examples of issues to consider include:

  • The introduction of allergens when changing ingredients and/or ingredient suppliers
  • Safe shelf-life if packaging changes and/or the product is formulated differently
  • The introduction of new microbiological, physical, chemical hazards with new ingredients

There may be other issues depending on the type of business/product involved.

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