Food businesses throughout Australia have been permitted to reopen their doors and begin dine-in service again after lengthy closures. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and pockets of outbreaks are beginning to pop up in certain areas around the country, causing a tightening of restrictions again. Metropolitan areas of Victoria have moved back to Stage 3 of reopening after a recent coronavirus outbreak. This set back means that dine-in service in these areas is no longer permitted and only takeaway and delivery services can be provided. This incident highlights how easily the coronavirus can spread and how quickly food businesses can be required to cease dine-in services again.
It is imperative that food businesses not become complacent with COVID-19 requirements and best practices, even if the case numbers are low in their area. Staying on top of the following best practices is essential for food businesses to continue to operate safely and be ready to adapt should they need to shut down again.
Don’t ditch the delivery model
During the lockdowns, many food businesses switched to a takeaway or delivery model of business if it was possible to do so. For many it was preferable to a complete shutdown as it allowed for some sort of business continuity and revenue generation. These business models required a different way of working than some businesses were used to, and many had to make significant changes to adapt and be successful with this type of business model.
Despite many Australian food businesses now providing dine-in service, it is important to keep up the takeaway and delivery service for the foreseeable future. Food businesses can easily be required to shut their doors again due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in their area. By keeping up with the takeaway and delivery model, food businesses can adapt to a changing situation more easily and continue to bring in revenue despite any restriction setbacks.
Don’t overdo the menu
For those businesses that continued to operate during shutdowns with takeaway and delivery service, most had to operate with a reduced menu. On average there was significantly less customers that were purchasing meals and this meant that food businesses needed to cut down on the amount of food kept on the premises and streamline the menu. Also, providing only takeaway or delivery service required that food businesses cut back on their menu items as not all dishes maintain their appearance and texture after travelling in a food container. It is also risky to provide takeaway for certain types of foods, such as some high-risk foods, which must be kept within a certain temperature range to minimise bacterial growth or the formation of toxins that can cause food poisoning.
It is important that food businesses take precautions when ordering food at this time. It is advised not to begin ordering large quantities of food, moving back to a full menu or even adding complex dishes to the menu. If a lockdown is reinstated, food businesses who are affected will be required to close their doors again which can lead to major food waste and financial loss.
Don’t forget protocols
Food businesses must maintain the protocols that were instated as part of their reopening plan. This includes adhering to the updated cleaning and sanitising schedule and ensuring that these tasks are being completed frequently and properly by staff. It is essential that food businesses clean and sanitise frequently, now more than ever.
Food businesses must also ensure that staff are continuously updated on the following:
- COVID-19 symptoms to be aware of
- the proper hand washing technique
- how to properly use personal protective equipment such as face masks
- COVID-19 rules and regulations that apply to the business
It is essential that these topics are discussed frequently with staff so that they stay top of mind. It is easy for staff members to fall back into old habits or forget COVID-19 protocols if they are not updated or trained on them regularly. Should the food business need to shut down again, these protocols will continue to be of extreme importance if the business continues with takeaway and delivery services.
Don’t overlook communication
Food businesses need to have a plan in place for communicating with customers in the event of another closure. Staff need to be trained on what to say to customers either in person or on the phone if dine-in service has ceased. Communication can also be achieved through obtaining signage for doors, windows or other areas of the business. Food businesses should also be prepared to make updates to the business website and any social media accounts.
Food business owners and management must also ensure that all staff members are kept up-to-date on the current situation. Keeping staff members up-to-date about fluctuations in business operations helps staff members to feel involved and informed. All staff members need to be made aware of any tightening of restrictions that may be coming and how that may affect their roles in the business or their jobs. It is important to demonstrate to staff members that they are important and that management will always keep them updated on any changes.
Don’t neglect the pre-closure checklist
If a food business does not have a pre-closure checklist in place, now is the time to create one. A pre-closure checklist helps food businesses to be prepared in the case that they are required to close again. This checklist should address items such as communicating with employees, retrieving workwear, ensuring suitable security for the premises, communicating with landlords and dealing with food in the establishment. This checklist should be reviewed and updated frequently.
Visit the AIFS Resource Library for a COVID-19 Pre-Closure Checklist.
Don’t wait to make a food plan
It is important to have a plan in place for what to do with food should a lockdown be reinstated. Food businesses must take stock of the food and determine what food could be kept on the premises. Foods that cannot be kept in storage during closure include prepared, cooked, ready-to-eat and thawed foods. It is essential to consider foods that will spoil or expire.
Foods that cannot be kept on the premises during another shutdown should be donated and food businesses need to have a plan in place for donating food. Do not wait to research what foods are acceptable for donation and what charitable organisations and charities are in the area. Speaking with these organisations now about their requirements will also help with preparing a plan. By taking these steps now, food businesses can reduce the amount of food waste that will occur should they have to close again.
Note: In Australia, there are specific laws in place to provide protection for companies and individuals who choose to donate food. It is important to note that depending on your state/territory and locality, the laws may vary slightly in their wording or application. It is advised to contact your local legislative authorities for advice about donating food.
It is vital that food businesses stay up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 information as information is changing daily. Food businesses must plan time each day (or every other day) to read COVID-19 updates. Staying informed is essential to knowing what restrictions apply to a food business and whether current COVID-19 case numbers are leading towards a shutdown again.
The Australian Institute of Food Safety is committed to providing regular COVID-19 updates that affect food businesses and the food industry as a whole.