Please see below answers to questions that you might have in relation to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and food.
Updated 19 October 2020
- Can I catch coronavirus COVID-19 from food?
- Should I handle food for others in my house if I have tested positive for coronavirus?
- If I am required to self-isolate, how long can I store food?
- Is it OK to cook meals in advance and make use of leftovers?
- With many people stockpiling from supermarkets I have been looking at other ways of sourcing my food supplies. Is it ok to buy food from people selling door to door or from restaurants which have had to close down due to COVID-19?
- Is it safe to eat imported foods?
- Can I catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from food packaging?
- Can I catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from unwashed fruit and vegetables?
- I would like to donate food to thank NHS staff and carers for the work they are doing. Do I need to take anything into account when providing food donations?
- Where should food businesses go for guidance about measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 at their premises?
- What steps do I need to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at my food business?
- What do I do if one of my employees believes they may have or has tested positive for COVID-19?
- How should I clean the premises and food processing equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
- What are the physical distancing requirements, which food businesses do they apply to?
- Do I need to request that all staff be required to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
- Is the wearing of medical grade face masks recommended to protect those working in the food industry from COVID-19? Updated 21 September
- Scottish Government has suggested that face coverings may have some benefit in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Does this means that my staff should be using them? Updated 21 September
- Do I have to wear a face covering if I work in a food shop?
- Do I still need to wear a face covering if my job is to work behind a counter or in a kitchen preparing food?
- Do I need to take extra precautions with regard to food packaging materials?
- Do I need to recall food products that were produced at my premises during periods when staff may have been infected?
- In what circumstances should I prevent someone from entering my food premises in case they have COVID-19? For example, Environmental Health inspections?
- I have surplus food from my business that I would like to redistribute so that it does not go to waste. Is that possible?
1. Can I get coronavirus (COVID-19) from food?
There is currently no evidence that food is a source of coronavirus (COVID-19) and it is very unlikely that it can be transmitted through the consumption of food, according to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).
Coronavirus is not a foodborne gastrointestinal virus like norovirus (also known as the winter vomiting bug) which causes illness through eating contaminated food.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and the transmission route of COVID-19 is thought to occur mainly through direct contact with respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
It is possible for COVID-19 to be spread indirectly when someone touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth or nose, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Thorough and frequent handwashing will further reduce any risk of spreading COVID-19 indirectly through contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.
Following infection prevention and control guidance published by Health Protection Scotland and NHS Inform will help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the handling and preparation of food. Also, based on what we know about similar coronaviruses, the virus would be inactivated through proper cooking and would be removed from food preparation surfaces by thorough cleaning and disinfection.
Whilst food is not considered to be a source or transmission route for COVID-19 it’s always important to follow the four key steps of food safety—cooking, cleaning, chilling and preventing cross contamination – to reduce the risks of all foodborne illness.
Read further advice on food safety in the home.
Download NHS Inform handwashing posters:
Anyone handling and preparing food for others should follow FSS advice on food hygiene and infection prevention and control guidance published by Health Protection Scotland and NHS Inform. Whilst COVID-19 is not known to be transmitted through food, it is always good practice not to handle food whilst coughing and sneezing and to avoid touching your face during the preparation of meals. Tongs and utensils can be used to minimise contact with food and thorough, frequent hand washing is critical in preventing the spread of any bacterial and viral infections.
You should always check date marks on food.
‘Use by’ dates show the date after which food is no longer safe to eat. You cannot smell or see food poisoning bacteria, so the ‘sniff test’ is not a good way to check. ‘Best before’ dates refer to the quality of the food rather than safety. Stock control marks such as ‘sell by’ dates are not intended for consumers and businesses are encouraged not to use them alongside either a ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date on food labels.
We always urge consumers to follow the information on food labels to help reduce the risks of becoming unwell from food poisoning
If you have leftover food, you should cool it down as quickly as possible (ideally within one to two hours) and store it in the fridge until you are ready to eat it. Leftovers can also be frozen but should be used within one to two days after being defrosted. Don’t reheat leftover foods more than once, and when reheating them, ensure the food is steaming hot all the way through.
Read more information on food safety.
Food Standards Scotland advice is never to deal with cold callers selling food at the door, especially those offering to supply fish, poultry and meat. We would advise consumers to only purchase food from established supermarkets and local food stores and suppliers which are open for business.
We are aware of incidents involving allegations of aggressive sales tactics by disreputable suppliers selling food which is mis-described and of a poor quality and hygiene standard.
If you are approached by someone selling food on your doorstep or have any concerns about the sale of food from an unknown supplier, you should contact your Local Authority Environmental Health Department or report it to Food Standards Scotland’s Food Crime Hotline (0800 028 7926).
Based on the currently available evidence, the risk of imported food and packaging from affected countries being contaminated on arrival into the UK is considered to be very low. This is because the legislation requires appropriate controls to be in place to ensure good hygienic practices are followed by the exporter during the packing and shipping process.
Indirect contact with COVID-19 through touching a surface or object that has the virus on it is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, thorough and frequent hand washing will help to minimise the potential for indirectly spreading the virus from any surfaces that may have become exposed, including packaged and unpackaged foods. It should be noted that hygienic handling of food is important to prevent the transmission of any bacterial or viral infection – not just COVID-19.
It is advised to wash your hands thoroughly after handling food deliveries or unpacking your food and drink at home on returning from the supermarket. Try not to touch your face while you are unpacking the products and disposing of any outer packaging.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging.
However it is always important to follow good hygiene and preparation practices when handling and eating raw fruit, leafy salads and vegetables which have not been pre-washed. Wash in a basin of clean water or under the tap to remove any contamination on the surface. You should not use soap or disinfectant when washing food. Peeling the outer layers or skins of certain fruits and vegetables can also help to remove surface contamination.
If you are donating or gifting food to anyone, it is important to make sure they know what is in it and how to prepare it so that it doesn’t present a risk of making them ill. Therefore, we urge consumers to donate only pre-packed foods if they felt it appropriate to give something. This will ensure that the foods are properly labelled with instructions such as use-by dates, allergen information and storage guidelines that allow them to be used safely.
We have produced guidance and tools to support businesses across the food and drink sector in identifying and implementing measures that will help them to protect their employees and customers from COVID-19. This guidance supports Scottish Government’s over-arching COVID-19 guidance for different business sectors. Scottish Government has also produced specific advice for businesses in Scotland on physical (social) distancing, including the updated exceptions to the 2 metre rule for certain sectors including food retail and hospitality businesses (pubs and restaurants). Information and guidance on COVID-19 for non-healthcare settings has been produced by Health Protection Scotland (HPS). Additional guidelines can also be found on the Gov.uk website.
Food businesses should liaise with their Local Authority Environmental Health department for any specific advice on food safety management and infection prevention and control measures that are relevant to their food production system, premises and workforce.
We are working closely with environmental and public health partners, as well as food industry bodies to ensure all of the information and guidance published on our dedicated webpage is updated to take account of new evidence.
Businesses can also play a role in helping to reduce the spread of coronavirus by reminding everyone of the government’s public health advice. Posters, leaflets and other materials are available online.
All decisions relating to measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 within a food business will be based on the public health risk of person-to-person transmission. There is currently no evidence that food is a source of coronavirus (COVID-19) or that it can be transmitted through the consumption of food.
Whilst foodborne exposure to COVID-19 is not known to be a route of transmission, it is important that all businesses maintain robust hygiene practices in line with their food safety management system.
In circumstances where food businesses have concerns that any of their employees may have COVID-19, they should refer to the Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings which has been produced by Health Protection Scotland (HPS). If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow Government advice to stay at home.
It is always important to apply the following good hygiene practices in order to prevent the spread of infection when preparing food:
- Ensuring adherence to robust hand washing procedures. Hand sanitiser gels can be made available in addition to hand washing facilities. However, it is important to remember that these only work on clean hands. They should never be used as a substitute to hand washing.
- Minimising direct hand contact with food by using tongs and utensils. Gloves can be used to minimise direct contact with food. However, gloves can become contaminated with bacteria or viruses such as COVID-19 in the same way as hands so are not a substitute for good personal hygiene and hand washing.
These are measures that all food businesses should already be implementing as part of their food safety management system to control the potential risks associated with any bacterial or viral infection.
Staff should be fit for work at all times. All staff should know that anyone experiencing symptoms in the workplace should be sent home immediately to self-isolate. FBOs must ensure that all staff understand the business’ Fitness to Work policy. During the current COVID-19 situation this will need to take full account of government advice on the need for individuals to self-isolate and stay at home when they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 they should follow Scottish Government and NHS Inform’s Test and Protect advice. Public health advice on self-isolation and staying at home should be communicated to all staff, checked and verified as part of every food business’s return to work procedures. FBOs must also ensure that staff follow advice to self-isolate if they are living with a person who has symptoms or has tested positive, or they have been informed by an NHS contact tracer that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Anyone experiencing symptoms of possible COVID-19 should arrange to get tested in line with Scotland’s Test and Protect Strategy. Employees can request an isolation note through NHS Inform.
In order to support Test and Protect, it is important that FBOs have clear and robust records of staff working on each shift, the make-up of teams and details of any visitors to the site, in case of need to contact trace. Local Health Protection Teams may themselves identify clusters of cases amongst your employees through ‘Test and Protect’. In this situation, you will again be asked to support the Health Protection Team with further investigation, communication with the workforce, and review of existing control measures.
While infection prevention and control is the key priority to ensure appropriate actions are taken to protect other workers and people who might have come in contact with employees who have presented with symptoms of COVID-19, food businesses should also consider the need for additional cleaning and disinfection procedures which are important in managing the cross contamination risks associated with all viruses and bacteria. If these normal controls are correctly implemented in conjunction with the infection prevention and control measures advised by Health Protection Scotland, it is highly unlikely that COVID-19 would be able to spread through food or food packaging and no further action needs to be taken.
If organic matter is present on surfaces, this can protect any bacteria or viral particles that may be present therefore reducing the effectiveness of disinfectants. Therefore it is very important to ensure any organic matter is removed through effective cleaning of surfaces prior to disinfection.
We have produced guidance on the control of bacterial cross contamination, which provides information on appropriate cleaning and disinfection practice in food businesses. Further guidance on cleaning and disinfection of food businesses with regard to COVID-19 is outlined in our guidance.
Further information on cleaning and disinfection procedures for controlling the risks of COVID-19 in non-healthcare settings is provided by guidance that has been published by Health Protection Scotland (HPS) and Public Health England.
When purchasing new cleaning and disinfection products, it is important to check with your supplier that they are effective against enveloped viruses such as the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 and to follow the product label guidelines to ensure they are safe and recommended for use in food processing and catering environments.
In the event of a shortage of antibacterial products, food businesses may wish to consider using heat based disinfection treatments. Kitchen items such as knives and utensils can be put into a dishwasher which is rated for disinfection, or submerged into boiling water. Surfaces can also be steam cleaned.
The advice on physical distancing measures applies to everyone, including those working in food businesses. Maintaining 2 metre physical distancing is the default rule for the food sector, however, exceptions have recently been allowed for certain sectors, including food retail and hospitality businesses (pubs and restaurants). These businesses are permitted to move to 1 metre physical distancing, but only where additional mitigation measures are put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Before moving to 1 metre physical distancing, businesses should undertake a risk assessment to determine what additional measures should be implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These additional measures, as detailed in the Scottish Government guidance on physical distancing, are critical for protecting both staff and customers. As an example, for staff working in kitchen environments, additional measures should include the following:
- Using floor markings to ensure distancing is maintained
- Reviewing layouts to ensure time working face to face is minimised
- Considering the use of screening between workstations to ensure staff are separated
- Assessing whether it is appropriate for kitchen staff to wear face coverings or masks
- Improving ventilation and air flow
- Reducing noise levels to ensure staff don’t need to communicate using raised voices
Food businesses are advised to refer to Scottish Government’s guidance for the retail and hospitality sectors. Further advice on the implementation of physical (social) distancing is also available in the guidance published by Health Protection Scotland (HPS) and NHS Inform. This guidance should be adhered to by all employees to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Employees in food production and retail settings should maintain physical (social) distancing wherever possible, in addition to effective Food Safety Management and hygiene practices, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Food businesses should be particularly vigilant in their hygiene practices, including thorough and frequent handwashing and routine cleaning and disinfection of all surfaces. HPS recommends that additional PPE should only be required in settings where there is a higher level of contamination risk through respiratory secretions from potentially infected individuals. In light of existing fitness to work requirements this is unlikely to be a scenario that will be encountered at any food production, retail or catering setting, as all symptomatic individuals will be self-isolating in accordance with Government guidance, and therefore additional PPE should not be necessary for food businesses at this time.
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should consider the need to inform other staff who may have come into contact with the infected individual whilst maintaining confidentiality.
It is important to note the difference between face masks and face coverings. To date, advice from UK and Scottish Public Health Authorities is that the use of medical grade face masks out with standard Health and Safety (H&S) and Food Safety Management System (FSMS) procedures should not be a requirement in non-healthcare settings such as food businesses.
Robust hygiene measures, coupled with physical distancing, continue to be the most important measures for FBOs to apply for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
It is recognised that certain high care food manufacturing environments already require the wearing of surgical/medical grade face masks as part of standard H&S and FSMS procedures. However, out with these specific circumstances, widespread use of face masks specifically for controlling COVID-19 should not be required in food production settings.
FBOs may wish to consider the introduction of face masks as an additional precaution for tasks where physical distancing presents a challenge. However, before doing so, they should undertake a risk assessment, bearing in mind that face masks carry their own training, usage and disposal requirements to minimise the risk of them becoming a source of contamination. Staff who are not accustomed to wearing face masks may be less likely to:
- Ensure they are fitted and worn properly;
- Change them at regular intervals;
- Handle and dispose of them hygienically.
- Apply effective risk reduction measures such as handwashing.
Ill-fitting face masks and the build-up of condensation can cause the wearer discomfort, increasing the likelihood that they will touch their face and the potential for spreading infection.
Face coverings can include fabric coverings for the nose and mouth. It is important to understand that these are very different to medical grade and respiratory masks which are manufactured to a recognised standard. The evidence suggests that a face covering will not protect the wearer from COVID-19, but may protect others if the wearer is infected and has not developed symptoms.
The wearing of fabric face coverings or masks has been advised for the general population as a precautionary measure for controlling the spread of COVID-19, and has been mandated in Scotland for certain closed environments including retail premises, hospitality settings, takeaways and cafes including canteens. Additionally, it is a legal requirement for all staff to wear a face covering in communal areas in indoor workplaces, such as corridors and staff rooms, where it is not possible to maintain 2 metre distancing. These requirements apply both to customers and staff working in the premises, except where an exemption applies. Staff in non-public facing roles, such as kitchen staff, are exempt from wearing face coverings where this may present health and safety issues.
For other types of food business, careful consideration should be given to the wearing of any type of face covering by staff. Inappropriate use of face coverings could present a risk to food hygiene and safety. Therefore, when deciding whether to introduce the wearing of face coverings or masks by staff, it is strongly recommended that FBOs undertake a risk assessment to determine if they are appropriate to the task and the food business setting. For example, whilst fabric face coverings may be required for retail staff who may come into contact with customers working on the shop floor, they may not be suitable for employees undertaking certain food preparation and handling tasks where high standards of hygiene are required.
The suitability of face coverings will depend on the type of food business and the nature of the task involved. Face coverings should only be considered by food businesses as an additional risk mitigation measure when physical distancing presents a challenge. In these cases, FBOs should consider whether it is appropriate for their staff to wear face coverings, taking account of the health and safety of the wearer and the safety and integrity of the food produced.
If you work in a shop, it will only be mandatory to wear a face covering when the shop is open to customers.
When the shop is open you will need to wear a face covering if there is a risk that you will come into contact with customers. This includes when a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained between staff and customers, and if there are no other separation measures in place (e.g. a partition).
For staff who are required to work in food shops whilst they are closed to the public, the decision to wear a face covering needs to be taken through agreement between the member of staff and the employer.
The main reason for making face coverings mandatory in shops is to help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in areas where staff are more likely to come into closer contact with customers, which in most cases will be on the shop floor and at checkouts.
However, it is recognised that there may be certain tasks that staff in food shops need to carry out where face coverings may not be appropriate. For example, where staff are handling food items or preparing meals and they need to prevent other types of infection (non-COVID) from getting into the food which could potentially make it unsafe.
COVID-19 is a respiratory infection and the wearing of face coverings is intended to prevent the spread of infection between people. There is no evidence that it can make people ill through food. It is therefore important that wearing a face covering doesn’t affect the hygiene controls that should already be in place to ensure food is protected from other bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. If there is any concern that wearing a face covering could present a risk to the food, the shop worker would not be required to wear one.
Current advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) is that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low. The Food Standards Agency has also undertaken a risk assessment which concluded that the probability that UK consumers will receive potentially infectious exposures of SARS-CoV-2 via the consumption of food or the handling of food contact materials or packaging is very low. Based on what is known about the virus, the risk of catching COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also considered to be very low.
While food packaging is not known to present a specific risk, efforts should be made to ensure it is cleaned and handled in line with usual food safety practices. Cleaning should be in line with food hygiene practice and the environmental controls set out in the business’ Food Safety Management System (HACCP). Provided staff continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe, hygienic systems of working, no additional precautions need to be taken.
It is important to note that all food businesses are required to control any risks that might be associated with staff who may be ill regardless of the type of virus or bacteria as part of their food safety management system (FSMS).
Therefore, provided food businesses are adhering to food hygiene practice and environmental controls set out in their FSMS, we do not anticipate that COVID-19 would result in food products needing to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market.
In circumstances where COVID-19 has impacted on the ability of your business to adhere to robust food safety management practice and you have any concerns regarding the safety of your food products you should follow our guidance on withdrawals and recalls.
It is important to note that inspections undertaken by Local Authority Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) play a critical role in ensuring food safety. Food Businesses should also bear in mind that EHOs are qualified in providing practical infection prevention and control advice as well as food safety advice, and are therefore well placed to support food businesses in these circumstances. FSS would therefore strongly advise food businesses to maintain an open dialogue with their EHO and discuss with them any concerns regarding access to their food premises.
It is possible for businesses to re-distribute surplus food but there are guidelines that need to be followed to ensure this can be done safely. Please refer to guidance we produced with Zero Waste Scotland.
Public Health England has also produced guidance for food businesses on COVID-19.