COVID-19 and food safety in Alert Level 4
Find out about food safety and coronavirus and our guidance for food handlers and food businesses operating in Alert Level 4.
Safety assurances – 25 August 2021
Alert Level 4 businesses or services should have a COVID-19 Safety Plan that sets out how they operate safely.
This is a guide for New Zealand food retailers and food manufacturers that can provide a service that is contactless, including payment and delivery:
- petrol stations,
- food banks,
- fishmongers, and
- food manufacturers
Additional guidance for primary industry businesses is also available.
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, for example, breathing in airborne virus from the sneeze of someone who is infected.
Keep up to date
Advice on this web page may change as new information and research are released.
The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the situation. Check its website for the latest status updates and information.
What can food business owners/managers do to manage the COVID-19 risk?
Throughout the outbreak of COVID-19, we are seeing important implications for food safety within the food and beverage industry.
Businesses which are not Alert Level 4 Businesses and Services must be closed.
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
- 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 and/or sanitation (for example, alcohol gels/wipes) to enable food handlers to practice good hygiene
- ensure that sufficient clean face masks are available for staff through their work shift
- ensure that food handlers and external contractors are aware that they must report any signs/symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work to their employer.
- be vigilant and ensure that food handlers and other staff are not ill and are fit to work
- check staff health daily before starting work and ensure that staff with symptoms stay home until medical advice is obtained and they are cleared to return to work
- must not require or 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.
Scheduled food verification
Food verification services are Alert Level 4 Businesses and Services to support businesses during Alert Level 4. It’s very important that these continue during the COVID-19 response to make sure food safety is managed properly.
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
- 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 (MOH) advice on social/physical distancing and limiting the spread of the virus.
This includes ensuring staff wear face masks, 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 MOH guidelines.
Are home kill operators Alert Level 4 businesses and services?
Yes, home kill operators can operate with social distancing and no retail sales to the public.
However mobile operators who are high risk (over 70-years-old, pregnant, or underlying health conditions) or are not well should not visit customers during this time.
Customers who are in this high-risk group should also heed this advice and avoid contact outside their bubble.
It is important to minimise customer interaction and to maintain 2 metre separation. Follow Ministry of Health guidance around alternatives to handshakes, frequent washing of hands, sanitising equipment, etc.
If you are a business that requires travel across the alert level boundary for work, information about permitted travel, the Business Travel Register, and exemptions is available on MBIE’s website.
The Business Travel Register will generate Business Travel Documents for workers to display at checkpoints. This includes a QR code, which enables Police at the cordon to verify the document digitally against the travel register.
It’s important to note that you cannot use the same travel documentation used during previous alert level events and must apply again.
For information about testing of essential workers crossing the Alert Level boundary, visit the COVID-19 website.
Businesses and workers need to continue to comply with the Government’s COVID-19 alert level settings and observe any protocols for their particular industry.