COVID-19 – Re-opening a food business
I want to re-open my food business, what do I need to consider?
You can only re-open your food business when it is permitted in line with the government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.
You must follow:
You must ensure that the food you intend to place on the market is safe and your business is compliant with the food law that applies to your business.
General Requirements for food safety and re-opening:
If your food business has been closed for any length of time, there are some checks and tasks that you should complete prior to re-opening:
Food Safety Management System
Make sure you know the food safety risks posed by your operation and how to control them. Check that your food safety management system is up to date and includes any changes you have made to your processes/procedures due to closing and re-opening and in line with COVID-19 measures.
Have there been any changes in your food business since the last time you were open?
Are you changing how you work? Do you have new pre-requisites, process flows, processes or activities? Have you updated your food safety management system to ensure any risks associated with these new processes or activities are controlled?
Check with your suppliers to see if they are operating as before and whether they can supply you with the same ingredients / products. Do you have new suppliers for some ingredients? If so, that may mean there are different allergens in the ingredients. You should assess this to ensure that the allergen information you provide to customers is correct. You may need to update your supplier list. You may also have to make other labelling changes.
Do you need to include additional cleaning measures (for example, more frequent cleaning of touch points, communal areas, etc.) into your cleaning programme?
Do you need additional handwashing / sanitising facilities for your staff and your customers?
Decide if and when you are ready to re-open. You may find it helpful to prepare a re-opening checklist.
When reviewing your food safety management system, pay particular attention to the following critical areas before re-opening:
Pest Control Check
As your food business has been closed for some time, you must check that there hasn’t been any pest activity in and around the premises. Check all areas of your food premises for signs of pests such as rodent droppings, smear marks, insect egg cases and dead insects. If you discover a problem, take immediate action to ensure the issue is resolved before re-opening and any preventative work required is complete. Further information on pest control can be found here: https://www.fsai.ie/faq/pest_control.html
Check all your stock to see that it is still in date and has not deteriorated during the time your business has been closed. Check the instructions / conditions of use on open stock. Any food that is past its ‘use by’ date or has deteriorated or is no longer suitable to use should be disposed of and not used. Make sure to use the oldest stock first.
Equipment and Services Check
Check all your equipment (cooking, preparation, etc.) and services (refrigeration, heating, lighting, ventilation, water supply and waste) are in good repair, ready and suitable for use. If any maintenance is required it should be carried out where possible before re-opening.
A deep clean is required after any prolonged period of closure to ensure that all food contact surfaces and utensils are safe for use. You must clean all equipment, surfaces, work surfaces, fridges, freezers, cooking equipment and utensils thoroughly. This includes areas that may have a less frequent clean, such as walls, etc. All touch points must also be cleaned, including door handles, handrails, tables and chairs, condiments, etc. It is important to clean with a detergent first to remove any dirt or debris. Then use a sanitiser or disinfectant in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
The cleaning of public toilets, bathroom sinks and sanitary facilities available for use by several people must be carefully performed. Consider the use of a disinfectant effective against viruses, such as 0.1% sodium hypochlorite, or other licensed viricidal products following the instructions for use provided by the manufacturer. Detailed information on cleaning of non-health care settings is available from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control at ECDC Disinfection in non-healthcare settings (March 2020).
Social Distancing Requirements
You must follow the guidelines issued in relation to social distancing for your business. This includes staff, customers, delivery personnel or other visitors. More information on the social distancing requirements is available from the HSE, Return to Work Safely Protocol (DBEI / HSA), Covid-19 Retail Protection and Improvement Guide (NSAI) and COVID-19 and Food Safety: Guidance for Food Businesses (WHO).
Before returning to work, you must follow the Return to Work Safely Protocol regarding your responsibility to staff and their individual responsibilities. In addition, you must:
- Ensure all staff, returning, new or temporary, are trained to their level of responsibility in relation to food safety and hygiene. Refresher training might be needed. See FSAI Training Guides.
- Train staff on the new procedures you are putting in place and what they need to do when you re-open regarding COVID-19, social distancing and fitness to work policy, the wearing of personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitation.
- Have segregation and cleaning procedures in place in case you or one of your staff become ill while at work
Outdoor markets / Farmers markets
From 18th May 2020, shops that primarily operate outdoors (for example: garden centres, hardware stores, farmers' markets) can re-open. This includes all outdoor markets, so long as social distancing measures can be put in place for both staff and customers. Retailers, including market managers / operators / organisers and individual stall holders, must develop a plan for the safe operation and protection of staff and customers which facilitates:
- Social distancing compliance;
- Extended opening hours to enable social distancing;
- Hygiene and cleaning;
- Compliance in higher risk situations.
As a market manager / operator / organiser or a food stall holder trading in the market, you must ensure you comply with the food law that applies to you. FSAI Guidance Note No. 16: Food Stalls (Revision 2) should be followed. In addition, there are some requirements outlined below.
Specific requirements for re-opening outdoor markets:
There must be a designated person(s) appointed who has overall responsibility for the safe operation of the market. This designated person(s) must be present when the market is operating and while the market is being set up and closing down.
Food prepared or sold on site must be for take-away only.
Customers should be encouraged to shop and go.
There must be:
- No eating or seating on site. All seating / tables must be removed or cordoned off.
- No added attractions on site, e.g. music, entertainment, demonstrations, etc.
- No sampling of food or drinks, etc.
Get advice on the use of reusable cups and containers by customers.
In addition to the hand washing facilities required under food law for food stalls (See FSAI Guidance Note No. 16: Food Stalls (Revision 2), which requires that wash hand basins are provided at stalls where high risk food is exposed, there must be communal hand washing facilities provided in suitable location(s) within the site for use by staff on all other food stalls. Hand washing facilities are required for all workers in line with the Return to Work Safely Protocol. These should be provided with a constant supply of hot and cold water, soap and a suitable means of hand drying. There must be suitable means of disposal of single use paper towels where used.
Hand sanitisers must be provided at all stalls for use by staff. However, this should not be used exclusively to replace regular hand washing.
Hand sanitiser and other hygiene measures must be provided at the entrance to and/or in key locations around the site for use by customers.
COVID-19 signage must be erected in prominent positions around the site.
If there are public announcement facilities available, regular COVID-19 prevention messaging should be included.
What do I need to consider as a market manager / operator / organiser?
As the designated person responsible for the safe operation of the market, you should contact your local HSE Environmental Health Office in advance of re-opening the market. Their contact details are available at Environmental Health Officers: Contact Details - HSE.
Follow the general requirements for food safety and re-opening and the specific requirements for re-opening outdoor markets (see above).
Ensure food law is complied with, paying particular attention to communal areas and facilities, including toilets, hand-washing and sanitising facilities, waste disposal, water supply and cleaning and disinfection.
Consider social distancing requirements, and what adjustments will need to be made. You need to:
- Prevent community gathering and encourage shop and go.
- Review your site and determine if the number of stalls needs to be reduced, if the layout needs to be changed or whether certain activities can safely operate. The location / re-location of busier stalls or stalls where queues form at certain times might need to be considered.
- You must ensure adequate social distancing while setting up and dismantling and between stalls to protect staff working at stalls.
- Social distancing guidelines must be ensured between:
- staff and customers
- between customers
- Review the opening hours in order to facilitate expected volume.
- Consider limiting numbers by first offering other options to purchase products, such as pre-ordering and delivery or collection, where possible. This may be facilitated by a dedicated collection point on or off site or even a drive through option. Orders paid for in advance reduce time on site.
- Manage and control the number of people in the market at any time. Can you control access? If so, you need to work out the number of customers that can be in the market at a time and how to control this. Perhaps you could use a click counter; allocate certain time slots which can be booked in advance; limit access to one household member; limit time spent at the market. If you cannot control access, i.e. the market takes place on a street, how can social distancing be controlled? Can you improve/modify entry and exit from the site?
- Manage queues to access the market and queues for individual stalls. These need to be clearly marked to ensure 2 metre distancing in all directions.
- People like to visit all stalls to view their options before selecting their purchases. This may need to be streamlined or limited to keep people moving and to avoid criss-crossing and doubling back. A one-way system may be an option.
- Additional support staff may be needed to assist customers and stall holders to achieve social distancing.
- Most importantly, have you a plan if the market becomes overcrowded or you find social distancing is not being observed?
Ensure there are adequate, suitable hand-washing facilities (as outlined above) for staff in reasonably accessible positions on site. These must be maintained in a clean and hygienic condition at all times
Ensure regular cleaning and disinfection of common areas, paying particular attention to touch points and removal of on-site waste.
What do I need to consider as a food stall operator?
As a food stall operator, you should contact your local HSE Environmental Health Office in advance of re-opening the market. Their contact details are available at Environmental Health Officers: Contact Details - HSE.
Follow the general requirements for food safety and re-opening and the specific requirements for re-opening outdoor markets (see above) and ensure you comply with the food law that applies to your activity.
Fresh produce and products should be pre-packed where possible or protected from handling, e.g. fruit and vegetables, bread and bakery products.
There must be no customer self-service. Food must be packed by staff on selection by the customer.
Products prepared on site should be pre-packed in disposable take away containers, in advance if possible.
Consider limiting your menu or range of products.
Offer a pre-ordering and payment service in advance if possible.
Go cashless and contactless where possible, i.e. tap and go. If not, then one person may be dedicated to deal with cash payments.
Increase cleaning and disinfection of the food stall, surfaces and equipment in particular touch points.
Hand washing facilities must be provided as set out above. In addition, hand sanitiser must be provided for staff at each food stall. Provision of separate hand sanitiser for customer use is recommended.
The FSAI has a range of support material available including:
Safe Food to Go
Training Guide Level 1 and 2
Training Guide Level 3
FAQ on Training
FAQ on Handwashing
Safe Catering Pack Checklist – ‘Fitness to work’
Safe Catering Pack Checklist – Hygiene Training
Last reviewed: 15/4/2021