Please see below answers to questions that you might have in relation to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and food.
Last updated 29 April 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 foods imported from Italy or China?
- Can I catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from food packaging? Handling packaged and unpackaged foods to minimise the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.
- 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?
- How do I ensure physical distancing is properly adhered to? Do I need to request that all staff be required to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
- Do I need to ask other workers who may have been exposed to a worker who decides to self-isolate and/or has tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days?
- 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?
- I’ve had to close my restaurant due to COVID-19 and I am considering how to keep the business going by offering a take-away service? Is there anything I need to be aware of to enable me to do this?
- 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?
- Is the wearing of facemasks recommended to protect those working in the food industry from COVID-19?
- 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?
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.
Follow good food hygiene and wash fruit and vegetables by rubbing under water and peeling the outer layers or skins, if appropriate.
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.
Scottish Government has produced specific advice for businesses in Scotland on social distancing, including the closure of all retailers that sell non-essential goods and other non-essential premises due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 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.
FSS is 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.
Food business managers and employees should follow guidance from Health Protection Scotland (HPS) on appropriate actions to take if someone has become unwell and / or has tested positive for COVID-19. Managers should also contact their Local Authority Environmental Health department and consult the NHS Inform website for any additional advice that may be required.
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.
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.
Cleaning and disinfection procedures should be in line with food hygiene practice and the environmental controls set out in the business’s Food Safety Management (FSMS) or HACCP plan. If these normal controls are correctly implemented in conjunction with the infection prevention and control measures advised by Health Protection Scotland, it is unlikely that COVID-19 can 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.
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 social distancing measures applies to everyone, including those working in food businesses.
The UK Cabinet Office (Gov.uk) has produced clear guidance on self-isolation, staying at home and away from others. Scottish Government has also produced specific advice for businesses in Scotland on social distancing, including the closure of all retailers that sell non-essential goods and other non-essential premises due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
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.
The risk of an employee transmitting COVID-19 to another is dependent on distance between employees, the duration of the exposure, and the effectiveness of the business’s Food Safety Management System (FSMS) hygiene procedures. Food businesses need to minimise opportunities for the virus to spread by maintaining a distance of 2 metres between individuals wherever possible. This advice applies to both inside the food business and in premises where there is opportunity for staff and customers to congregate in external public areas.
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 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 current restrictions 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 is not a requirement 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.
The UK Cabinet Office (Gov.uk) has produced clear guidance on self-isolation, staying at home and away from others.
As of the 23rd March 2020, the Scottish Government introduced three additional measures that we can all take, to reduce our day to day contact with other people. This will reduce the spread of the infection, protect the NHS and save lives. Everyone must comply with these new measures which are:
- Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes.
- Closing non-essential shops and community spaces.
- Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public.
Scottish Government has produced specific advice for businesses in Scotland on social distancing, including the closure of all retailers that sell non-essential goods and other non-essential premises due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If your business remains open and operational, employers need to follow appropriate infection prevention and control guidelines. Employers should consult with their Local Authority Environmental Health department for any additional guidance that may be relevant to their business.
Current advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) is that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is 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.
If you are considering changing your current business model, there may be additional food safety and food information risks that you need to be aware of, so you should always speak with your Local Authority Environmental Health Department who will be able to advise you about this.
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.
To date, advice from UK and Scottish Public Health Authorities has been that the use of additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including facemasks should not be a requirement in non-healthcare settings such as food businesses. There has been no change to this advice, and Government continues to advise against the use of facemasks outside of clinical and care settings, where they play a very important role.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, scientists are learning more about the virus, and new theories are emerging on how it is spread in the population. Recently, some health experts have argued that the wearing of facemasks in public places could provide an additional barrier against the spread of viral particles carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols of saliva from individuals who may be carrying the virus before they start showing any symptoms. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has undertaken to review the emerging scientific opinions and evidence in this area. However the evidence for the use of facemasks for the general population is not conclusive at this stage.
Therefore, UK Government and Health Protection Scotland continue to advise that facemasks should not be used for the purposes of controlling COVID-19 outwith healthcare settings, where there is a need for medical workers and carers to wear specific respirators and surgical masks to protect themselves and their patients from the virus.
There are a number of reasons why widespread use of facemasks is not recommended for the food industry at the present time:
- Health Protection Scotland and Public Health England advise that facemasks should not be used outside of clinical and care settings, as the evidence for their effectiveness against the spread of COVID-19 in non-healthcare workplaces is not proven.
- Facemasks 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 facemasks may be less likely to:
- Ensure they are fitted and worn properly;
- Change them at regular intervals;
- Handle and dispose of them hygienically.
- 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.
Ensuring physical (social) distancing is applied wherever possible, in addition to requiring thorough and frequent handwashing by all staff continue to be the most important measures for food businesses to apply for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in their premises. We have published guidance for food business operators and their employees on the control of COVID-19.
This is a dynamic situation and, along with other public health bodies, FSS will continue to review its guidance in line with emerging scientific evidence and expert public health opinion.
On the 28 April, the Scottish Government issued new advice that there may be some benefit for the general public to wear textile face coverings over the mouth and nose to reduce the risk of them spreading COVID-19 to others (particularly when asymptomatic). It was suggested that this could be applied as a precautionary measure in situations where physical (social) distancing presents a challenge in enclosed environments such as public transport or shops. This new Scottish Government advice is based on limited evidence and is not mandatory.
Based on currently inconclusive evidence, FSS considers the use of textile facial coverings, or indeed face masks, to be of limited value for protecting staff in food business environments. Face masks and/or coverings should never be used as a replacement for hygiene and distancing measures in any food business.
In food production and manufacturing premises, FSS recommends that facemasks should only be considered for occasional defined tasks for which additional precautions are considered appropriate. In these specific cases, they must be fit for purpose, and training provided to wearers to ensure they are fitted, worn and disposed of correctly. For further information please refer to our guidance.
It is important to highlight that the new advice from Scottish Government on the use of textile face coverings is not intended as an infection prevention and control measure for workers and therefore does not apply to food businesses.
We are aware that some food retail and catering businesses in which there is a need for interaction with the general public may wish to consider the use of masks, especially when staff are unable to be physically distanced from individuals they do not normally come into contact with. These should be used in a way that is consistent with the business’s health and safety requirements. It is also important to highlight that the failure of staff to wear face masks hygienically and to ensure that they are changed regularly could have a detrimental impact on infection control and food safety.
Public Health England has also produced guidance for food businesses on COVID-19.
The European Commission has published a Q&A on COVID-19 and Food Safety.