COVID-19 and food safety in Alert Level 3
Advice around food safety and coronavirus and our guidance for food handlers and food businesses during Alert Level 3.
Advice on this web page may change as new information and research is released.
The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the situation. Check its website for the latest status updates and information.
New Zealand Food Safety has reviewed the most recent science from around the world about the risk of being infected with COVID-19 through contact with food or food packaging. To date, there is no evidence of transmission via food or food packaging.
Because of the negligible risk of transmission via food packaging, New Zealand Food Safety do not recommend any form of disinfection.
Coronaviruses cannot grow in food – they need a host (animal or human) to grow in. Cooking for at least 30 minutes at 60°C kills SARS, which is a similar coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are most commonly passed between animals and people and from person-to-person contact.
The virus is nearly always transmitted through direct mucous membrane contact by infectious droplets or aerosols, like breathing in airborne virus from the sneeze of someone who is infected.
Food business owners/managers
Under Alert Level 3, all primary sector businesses and support services can operate, as long as they can operate safely.
Under Alert Level 3, all businesses permitted to operate should have a COVID-19 Safety Plan that sets out how they operate safely.
Additional guidance for primary industry businesses is also available.
For New Zealand food service and retail businesses, operating under the Food Act 2014, there is guidance how to help keep customers and staff safe during COVID-19 Alert Level 3.
Food businesses can operate under Alert Level 3 so long as they deliver or offer pre-arranged collection of goods bought online or by phone. Some specific examples include butchers, bakeries, greengrocers and takeaways.
Sales of primary produce direct to consumers can likewise only be done only by contactless delivery or pre-arranged contactless pick up. This will mean that farmers’ markets cannot be held, but pre-arranged collection of goods bought online or by phone can be arranged.
Businesses that require face-to-face contact, or people congregating in a specific area, can not operate under Level 3.
It is more important than ever that food businesses apply strict food preparation and hygiene practices.
In addition, if you are an employer, we ask that you:
- make sure staff are aware of the symptoms of COVID-19, and how they can self-isolate if the need arises
- make sure staff are supplied with face masks and other required personal protective equipment, and know how to correctly put on, wear, and take off this equipment
- ensure that food handlers are trained appropriately in food hygiene practices appropriate to their premises
- ensure effective supervision of food handlers to reinforce hygienic practices
- ensure that appropriate facilities are provided for hand washing or sanitation (for example, alcohol gels/wipes) to enable food handlers to practice good hygiene
- ensure that food handlers and external contractors are aware that they must report any signs/symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work
- be vigilant and ensure that food handlers and other staff are not ill and are fit to work
- check staff health daily before work and ensure that staff with symptoms stay home until medical advice is obtained and they are cleared to return to work
- make sure you are aware of staff who have recently returned from overseas
- must not knowingly allow workers to come to a workplace when they are sick with COVID-19, or if they have been advised to self-isolate under public health guidelines for COVID-19
Self-isolation for close contacts
Anyone who has been identified as a close contact of a suspect or confirmed case is required to self-isolate, report to their manager, and to not come to work for 14 days.
This includes staff who have returned to reside in a region at a lower Alert Level.
Scheduled food verification
Food verification services are essential services to support businesses during Alert Level 3. It’s very important that these continue during the COVID-19 response to make sure food safety is managed properly.
We have set up a Remote Check System of Food Act 2014 businesses as an interim measure until on-site verifications can resume. This means that the Food Act verifiers that have completed the necessary Remote Check training, can complete scheduled verifications with food businesses off-site, via a phone call or using online technology such as Skype.
For more information, verifiers can visit the Food Verifiers Academy. Food businesses owners/managers can contact your verifier or email email@example.com.
Advice for food handlers
Food handlers at businesses and at home should continue to follow standard, good personal hygiene practices that reduce the risk of transmission of most foodborne illnesses.
All the rules regarding food safety and hygiene still apply. It is more important than ever that these practices are maintained to reduce the risk.
Good practices include:
- regularly washing and thoroughly drying hands or sanitising hands (e.g. alcohol gels/wipes)
- wearing a face mask and other appropriate personal protective equipment
- using clean utensils to handle cooked and ready-to-eat foods, and not touching the food directly
- not coughing or sneezing over food
- avoiding touching your nose, mouth and hair when preparing or serving food
- keeping people who are coughing and sneezing away from food
- avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
The rules for hand washing don’t change – food handlers need to wash hands (even if they have no disease symptoms):
- when starting work
- before preparing or handling cooked or ready-to-eat food
- after handling or preparing raw food
- after handling waste food or rubbish
- after cleaning duties
- after using the toilet
- after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing
- after eating, drinking, or smoking
- after handling money
- after touching items/furniture/fittings.
Good hygiene and cleaning will also prevent cross-contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the kitchen or service area.
It is important that food handlers inform their employer, avoid preparing food for other people, and seek medical advice if they think they have symptoms of respiratory illness.
Extra measures food manufacturers can take to protect their staff from illness
Where businesses want to take extra measures to protect their staff and customers, they should do so in line with Ministry of Health advice on social/physical distancing and limiting the spread of the virus.
This includes communicating staff sickness policies to employees, and ensuring staff hygiene, cleaning and sanitation processes continue on the factory floor.
Ensure all contractors, visitors, delivery drivers coming into your plant follow Ministry of Health guidelines.
Other measures in line with the Ministry of Health’s advice on limiting the spread of the virus include sanitising shared equipment like forklifts, pallet jacks, box strappers and other equipment staff will touch directly throughout the day.
For communal areas, like canteens and break rooms, these extra precautions are in line with Ministry of Health advice:
- Increase the frequency of disinfecting touch-points on point of sale terminals, EFTPOS machines, door handles and other frequently-touched surfaces
- Sanitise chairs and tables frequently and between shifts
- Make hand sanitisers available
- Everyone at your business practicing frequent and thorough hand washing.
- Self-serve buffets and high-use utensils (tongs, serving spoons) taken out of use for the duration of COVID-19
Can home kill operators continue to operate?
Yes, home kill operators can operate with social distancing and no retail sales to the public.
Transport and freight
Ministry of Transport provides guidance on private and public transport and freight. The movement of all freight is permitted at Alert Level 3, including the ability of business and customers to send, distribute and receive freight. All freight can enter and leave the country.
Travel, including between regions, is allowed for workers travelling to do essential work, including in primary sector businesses.
Information about permitted travel, and what is required, can be found on the MBIE website and will be updated regularly.