COVID-19 and Food Safety Update #3

Article by FSANZ


Key Points

  • There is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through food
  • Extra care should be taken with hygiene and health to reduce the risk
  • Anyone with suspected symptoms of respiratory illness should avoid preparing food for other people
  • Businesses need to follow any social distancing requirements requested by the Australian Government


FSANZ is liaising with the Department of Health; the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, state and territory health authorities, and international counterparts to ensure the most up to date information is available on their website.


The Australian Government Department of Health  is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic.   For updates, refer to the Prime Minister of Australia website and the Australian Government Department of Health website.


What is Coronavirus?

  • Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that usually cause respiratory illness. They include viruses that cause the common cold and more serious illnesses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV)
  • Previous experience with outbreaks of illness due to MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV and other respiratory viruses (e.g. avian influenza) suggests that novel coronavirus may have been originally transmitted from animals to humans
  • People can become infected with coronaviruses by breathing in infected droplets (e.g. from a cough), or by transferring the virus from dirty hands and touching their face, especially inside the nose or eyes
  • Coronaviruses can survive on surfaces, such as a bench, for several days, depending on the type of material, temperature and humidity
  • The viruses can be destroyed by heat (e.g. cooking), common detergents and sanitisers
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided information about coronavirus on their website

Can the Virus Be Transmitted Through Food?

  • Transmission through food is unlikely and so far there is no evidence that people have become infected by swallowing the virus in or on food or drink
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released a statement saying that food is not a likely source or route of transmission of the virus


Is Meat Safe?

  • It is suspected COVID-19 may have originated in animals. It is not likely to be transmitted to humans from meat in Australia.  WHO recommends cooking meat properly and not eating any meat from diseased animals
  • In Australia all meat sold is subject to strict controls, including requirements that prohibit the use of meat and offal from diseased animals for human consumption. As such, it is unlikely that extra precautions need to be taken for meat in Australia to prevent COVID-19 transmission
  • All raw meat can contain other microorganisms that cause food poisoning. It is important that we continue good food hygiene practices such as taking care to prevent cross contamination and cooking meats, especially mince and chicken, thoroughly


General Food Safety Advice for Everyone

  • Everyone should practise good hygiene when preparing and handling food
  • WHO has issued precautionary recommendations including advice on good hygiene practices during food handling and preparation, they include:
    • Washing hands before handling food, and between handling raw and cooked foods
    • Thorough cooking and proper handling of meat products
    • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
    • Avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing
  • As an added precaution, if you have suspected symptoms of respiratory illness you should avoid preparing food for other people and seek medical attention


Advice for Food Businesses

  • It’s important for food businesses to be extra vigilant with all aspects of health and hygiene, to ensure no-one contaminates the surfaces in your food service or processing environment because of illness or unclean habits
  • Good hygienic manufacturing practices and thorough cooking for cooked products will minimise the risk of transmission and meet food safety requirements


How Do I Prevent People in my Business Transmitting the Virus?

Normal best-practice prevention measures will reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19, as for foodborne illnesses like norovirus and salmonella:

  • Practice good personal hygiene
  • Have clean hands and clothes
  • Keep things clean and sanitised
  • Exclude ill workers
  • Practice social distancing



How Can I Properly Clean and Sanitise My Equipment and Facilities?

Cleaning and sanitising, particularly all food contact surfaces, is critical.

  • General cleaning should continue as normal (e.g. using hot water and detergent)
  • Additional cleaning and sanitising of all food contact surfaces is recommended
  • Regular cleaning and sanitising of frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, light switches, trolley jacks, work benches, equipment and any other surface identified by the business should be implemented
  • All eating and drinking utensils and food contact surfaces must be clean and sanitised before use
  • For sanitising, current advice is that coronavirus is destroyed by hot water (e.g. by dishwashers operating above 60oC), or by commercial sanitisers normally used (e.g.  sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, and 70% ethanol).  No change in concentration or exposure times is needed.  Follow manufacturers’ instructions.

Is Soap and Water Enough for Hand Washing?

  • Handwashing is critical to reducing spread of the virus – businesses should ensure adequate facilities are provided and ensure food handlers thoroughly and frequently wash their hands
  • Normal soap and warm running water is adequate for hand washing
  • Hand sanitisers can be used as an added measure but should not replace hand washing
  • Persons wearing gloves should be mindful that gloves are clean and changed as necessary, and hands are washed between changes



What If Someone on My Business Premises is Unwell?

  • Health and hygiene responsibilities for food businesses and handlers have always required that all practicable measures must be taken to prevent contamination of the food service or processing environment
  • Food handlers must tell their supervisor if they have, or think they have, contaminated food in any way
  • Food handlers who know or suspect they are unwell or are suffering from symptoms of illness including sore throat, cough and fever must report this to their supervisor
  • Unwell food handlers need to be excluded from food handling activities or from the workplace entirely until they are professionally deemed safe to return to work (as per guidance from health authorities)
  • If multiple staff are directed to be quarantined and this affects operational capacity, the business will need to consider its own contingency plans for disposing of raw materials (especially fresh ingredients), any work in progress, or short shelf-life stock to ensure food safety is maintained
  • You should also exclude other people you know are unwell, particularly from food handling areas (e.g. tradespeople entering your premises)
  • Members of the public have an obligation to stay at home while displaying any symptoms such as sneezing or coughing


What Other Precautions Do I Need To Take?

  • Make sure you and your staff are aware of the COVID-19 situation and take it seriously
  • Make sure staff are well trained to meet health and hygiene requirements
  • Effectively supervise all areas where food is exposed to ensure it is not contaminated, or removed if it is contaminated (or suspected to be)
  • Social distancing is recommended – follow current health instructions
  • Businesses could consider positioning all people on the premises (including food handlers and customers) to be an appropriate distance apart to reduce the risk of transmission


Where Can I Find More Information?

  • Latest COVID-19 updates – See the Australian Government Department of Health website
  • NSW Food Authority – Advice for Food Businesses
  • Safe Food Production Queensland – COVID-19. Advice for Food Businesses
  • Food safety requirements
    • Standards 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 apply to all Australian businesses and are on the FSANZ website
    • Guidance for meeting the requirements is in Safe Food Australia and InfoBites fact sheets
  • Food safety enforcement and compliance– Australian state and territory health authorities and New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries are responsible for enforcement and compliance of the Food Standards Code.  Contact details are available on the FSANZ website
  • Australian workplace laws – See Fair Work Ombudsman website



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