COVID-19 and food safety in Alert Level 2

Virus transmission

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 does 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.

New Zealand Food Safety Scientific Opinion on Covid-19 transmission through food packaging [PDF, 189 KB]

International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods’ Opinion on COVID-19 and food safety

Food business owners/managers

All primary sector businesses and support services can operate in Alert Level 2, as long as they can operate safely.

Primary sector businesses in Alert Level 2

Ongoing registration and verification of Food Control Plans, National Programmes, and Risk Management Programmes (RMPs)  are still required. Evaluation of RMPs will also go ahead.

Operating in Level 2

To operate in Alert 2, you need to:

  • maintain a contact tracing register wherever workers, contractors or customers interact
  • maintain physical distancing (inc. 2 metres in retail stores, like supermarkets, and 1 metre in most other environments like cafes and restaurants)
  • use alternative ways of working, if possible, to reduce the level of people movement and interaction, such as, staggered breaks, shift working and flexible working
  • ensure staff have access to clean face masks throughout the workday.

Alert Level 2 - COVID-19

Safe practice

No registration or verification of a Safe Practice Plan is required under Alert Level 2.

Businesses must take measures to allow contact tracing and maintain appropriate physical distancing. This includes keeping track of all people (staff and customers) on workplaces. 

Contact tracing - COVID-19

For New Zealand food service and retail businesses, operating under the Food Act 2014, there is guidance to help keep their customers and staff safe during COVID-19 Alert Level 2.

COVID-19 Alert Level 2 Safe Practice Guidance for Food Service and Retail Businesses [PDF, 791 KB]

Additional guidance for primary industry businesses is also available.

MPI generic guidance on COVID-19 safety measures for primary industry and food businesses at Alert Level 2 [PDF, 228 KB]

Good hygiene

It is more important than ever that food businesses apply strict food preparation and hygiene practices.

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
  • supply face masks and other required personal protective equipment to staff and ensure they know how to put on, wear, and take off correctly
  • 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 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
  • regularly check on staff health and ensure that staff with symptoms stay home until medical advice is obtained and they are cleared to return to workmake sure you are aware of staff who have recently returned from overseas
  • 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 essential services to support businesses. It’s very important that food verification services 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, and food businesses owners/managers can contact their verifier or email foodactinfo@mpi.govt.nz.

Food Verifiers Academy

Making changes to a food business

There are requirements food businesses must follow to ensure their food is safe for consumers. New Zealand Food Safety has developed easy ways for businesses to meet these requirements, including making changes to the way they operate.
We have developed material for animal products businesses wanting to add additional procedures into their existing RMP, such as packaging, labelling and delivery.

Making changes to a Food Act business

The following guidance is for businesses which operate under the Food Act 2014 (including butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, delicatessens, cafes, restaurants, takeaways, food service, manufacturers, food transporters, cheesemakers, winemakers and horticultural growers) who want to make changes to their existing Food Control Plan or National Programme.

These scope changes can include:

  • Selling takeaway food,
  • Delivering/transporting food,
  • Meal kits and breaking bulk food into smaller packaging for retail,
  • Making chilled / frozen prepared food, and/or
  • Making jams, sauces, and chutneys

If you want to make a scope change: you will need to work through the My Food Rules (online registration) tool. When competing the questionnaire, you will need to include your original activities as well as the activities you want add.

My Food Rules

Once you have successfully completed the My Food Rules questionnaire, you will receive a step-by step guide about what plan/programme you need, and who you should be registering with.

In all cases, if you are planning on making changes to your business, let your Registration Authority (New Zealand Food Safety or your local council) know, by email or phone. Please note that fees and charges may apply.

Making changes to an Animal Products Act business

The following steps are for businesses that operate under the Animal Products Act, including egg producers, dual operator butchers, dairy producers and suppliers of raw drinking milk.

Operators already have ‘click and collect’ within the scope of their Risk Management Programmes (RMP). So to help businesses who want to start delivering food to their customers, we have created a RMP template for packing, labelling and/or delivery.

  • Download A1 RMP Template for Packaging, Labelling and Delivery of Animal Products. This has been pre-evaluated and does not require further evaluation.
    A1 RMP Template for Packaging, Labelling and Delivery of Animal Products [PDF, 488 KB]
  • Attach this to your current RMP. Including this pre-evaluated RMP template will be considered to be a minor amendment of your RMP.
  • Notify your verifier and MPI Approvals (mpi.approvals@mpi.govt.nz) that you have added the respective operation(s) to the scope of your business’s RMP.
  • Start following the additional procedures within your business operation.
  • Once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, you will need to formally advise MPI Approvals if you want to continue with the additional or changed operations.

Note: farmers selling and delivering raw drinking milk to consumers who are registered under the raw drinking milk Regulated Control Scheme (RCS), must continue to follow the requirements of the Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers Regulations 2015 and Animal Products Notice: Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers as well as meeting the COVID-19 rules for home delivery.

Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers Regulations 2015

Animal Products Notice: Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers [PDF, 926 KB] 

Safety and hygiene checks for re-opening food businesses

Food businesses re-opening under Alert Level 2 should go through the following checks to ensure food safety and hygiene practices.

  1. Are premises OK for preparing or handling food?
    • Once your building has formally re-opened, you will need to make sure that nothing has happened during the closure that stops you from operating safely. Is there a chance that food will become contaminated from something that happened when the business was closed, such as maintenance activities, or a leaking pipe? Make sure the services you need for power, water supply and drainage are working as intended.
    • Have pests become a problem? Check for signs of insect pests (e.g. cockroaches) and rodents (rat, mice droppings, gnawed food and food packaging). Get rid of pests before re-opening. Throw away food exposed to pests and in gnawed packaging. Clean other packaging and follow steps in 2 below before opening.
  2. Are toilets and personnel hygiene facilities working?
    • Make sure toilets and handwashing facilities for staff are in working order and have soap and towels. 
  3. Can the premises be thoroughly cleaned before use?
    • Areas used for food preparation and serving will need to be thoroughly cleaned, and food preparation surfaces and utensils cleaned and sanitised before use to ensure there is no risk to food safety.
  4. Is the water safe to use?
    • Follow information from the Ministry of Health for flushing-through water systems before you start to clean and sanitise food areas. If you notice anything unusual with the colour or cloudiness or smell after this, contact your water supplier for advice. If you know of a water supply issue near your business, confirm with your supplier it is OK to use the water. Further information about water in food businesses can be found at: www.health.govt.nz/
    • Don’t forget to flush clean water through machines that are plumbed into the water supply, such as ice machines, drinking fountains, coffee machines, slush-ice makers, post mix guns, self-service soft drink machines and water coolers, especially if these haven’t been turned off during lock-down.
  1. Is food still safe to use?
    • Check whether fridges, chillers and freezers have been without power, as the safety of stored food may have been affected. As a 'rule of thumb':
      • If power was off for more than 24 hours, or chillers were opened, potentially-hazardous foods (such as foods that contain meat, fish and dairy products) should be thrown away.
      • If power to fridges and chillers was off for less than 24 hours, and chillers were not opened, contents must be checked for odours and other signs of spoilage before using.
      • Perishable foods in the chiller, for example fruit and hard cheeses, may still be safe to use if these are not showing obvious signs of spoilage.
      • If a freezer was full, power was off for less than 4 days and the freezer was not opened during the power cut and there is no evidence of thawing, contents should be OK to use.
      • If the freezer was opened during the power cut, the freezer was not full, there is any evidence that contents have completely thawed, or have thawed then refrozen, throw this food out. Don’t feed it to pets or use as pig food.
      • Throw out any food beyond its use-by date. And don’t feed it to pets or use as pig food.
      • Throw out any food beyond its Use-By date.
      • All opened ready-to-eat food (such as processed meats), should be thrown out, even if it is within the Best-Before or Use-By date.
      • If in doubt, throw it out.
    • Food still frozen with ice crystals throughout can continue to be kept frozen, if you are sure it did not thaw out and then re-freeze when the power came back on. Frozen food that has defrosted and was refrozen when the power was restored should not be used. This will not always be obvious, but important signs of defrosting and refreezing will be: misshapen products; drip from packaging that has become frozen; packages stuck together; or the pooling of frozen fluids in the bottom of sealed packages. Again, if in doubt, throw it out.
  2. Is refrigeration working?
    • Make sure chillers, freezers, display cabinets and other equipment will work as intended.
  3. Food for sale or wholesale
    • For restaurants and cafe businesses, think about providing food that needs minimum handling and is thoroughly cooked; particularly until you have identified what normal trading will look like for you and your staff, and you get back into routine.
  4. Sourcing new supplies
    • If you are restocking chilled and frozen food from suppliers that were not trading during COVID-19 Level 4, check your supplier has taken the steps in 5 above.
    • If you are supplied with different products or brands, check they meet your recipes and/or processes and don’t contain unexpected ingredients or allergens. If these do, you will need to let customers know what these are.
  5. Are your staff available and know what to do?
    • Any new or replacement staff must receive food safety training before starting work. It is a good idea to remind staff of sickness policies, and that it is always vital that hands and food preparation surfaces and equipment are kept clean, even more so at this time. If in any doubt about what you should do, contact your food safety verifier.

Checklist for Re-Opening a Food Business after a COVID-19 Shut Down [PDF, 197 KB]

Any questions?

For Food Act questions, contact us at foodactinfo@mpi.govt.nz or phone 0800 00 83 33.

For Animal Products Act questions, email animal.products@mpi.govt.nz or phone 0800 00 83 83.

For latest sector-specific advice on COVID-19:

Last reviewed: