More on food hygiene and covid

Food premise shall be always well maintained and cleaned thoroughly and sanitized daily. Various areas of Food Establishment such as food preparation/production area, stores, packaging area, service area, waste disposal area, office space, transport, shall be cleaned with soap and water, followed by disinfection (using freshly prepared one percent hypochlorite solution or any other disinfectant found to be effective against corona virus). Equipment, containers, utensils, cutlery, etc. should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water. Preferably use hot water (above 60 °C) for washing and sanitising. High touch points (such as elevator buttons, handrails / handles and call buttons, escalator handrails, public counters, intercom systems, equipment like telephone, printers, scanners, and other office machines, table tops, chair handles, pens, diary files, keyboards, mouse, mouse pad, and tea/coffee dispensing machines,. shall be cleaned twice daily by mopping with a linen/absorbable cloth soaked in one percent sodium hypochlorite. In case of metallic surfaces like door handles, security locks, handles of baskets/carts, display racks where use of bleach is not suitable, 70 percent alcohol shall be used to wipe the surfaces. Hand sanitizing stations should be installed in food establishments (especially at the entry) and near high contact surface toilets and washrooms  shall be cleaned after every shift using water and detergent. This shall be followed with disinfection using 1 percent hypochlorite solution or an equivalent. For metallic surfaces (such as shower, taps, etc.) and surfaces where use of bleach is not suitable, use 70 percent alcohol based disinfectant. In case any food handler coughs or sneezes without following respiratory hygiene or develops any flu like symptoms, an area of two meters around the person shall be immediately vacated, thoroughly cleaned and disinfected using freshly prepared 1 percent hypochlorite solution or any other disinfectant found to be effective against novel coronavirus. All cleaning equipment, cloth, mops, reusable protective gear such as boots, and gloves shall be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use and prior to use, in other areas.  In cleaning process remove loose dirt and food particles and then rinse with warm, potable water. This should be followed by washing with hot water (60 °C) and detergent and rinse with clean potable water. Then sanitizing by treating with very hot, clean, potable water (75 °C) for at least 2 minutes. Leave benches, counters and equipment to air dry. The most hygienic way to dry equipment is in a draining rack. Cleaning process should be followed by disinfection. The common disinfectants  are Chlorine, Quaternary Methyl Butyric Acid(QMBA),70% alcohol based solutions. There are other chemical based disinfectants available in the market and same can be used as provided by the manufacturer.

Food Service /Delivery, shall ensure that food service area is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after every meal prepared and disinfect surfaces repeatedly touched by employees or customers such as door knobs, equipment handles, check-out counters, and grocery cart handles, etc. Hand washing facility should be made available to the workers and if that is not possible hand sanitizers should be placed at the entry of the retail stores and used accordingly. Even with proper hand washing, food workers should use a barrier such as tongs, gloves, or other utensil to prevent direct hand contact with food. The virus is likely to be inactivated by proper cooking temperatures, it is important to use gloves or other barriers to prevent touching foods that will not be fully cooked. No ready-to-eat food item shall be left open and shall be kept covered or in glass displays. Employees shall wear clean uniform, mask face cover, gloves and head covers at all times.

All food items shall be thoroughly washed. Fruits and vegetables (to be consumed raw) shall be washed in 50 ppm chlorine (or equivalent solution) and clean potable water before storage.  In case of food delivery, food handler shall ensure that: Face is covered with a clean mask or a face cover, hands are sanitized before food pick up and after delivery. Social distancing is followed by maintaining a minimum 1 meter gap between self and customer. Contact with common touch points such as door bell, handles, etc is avoided. If unavoidable, hands are sanitized after coming in contact with common touch points. Contactless delivery methods shall be encouraged. Customers shall be encouraged to place orders online or on telephone, well in advance. This will help in reducing the wait time at the food establishment. Employees shall refrain from handling cash. In case cash is handled, employees shall wash or sanitize their hands afterwards. Customers shall be encouraged to use contactless modes of payments such as, net-banking, e-wallets, etc. In case credit/debit fcards are used, the card machine shall be sanitised with 70 % alcohol after each use.

In food transportation or distribution the drivers, loaders and other support staff shall be trained about the COID-19 infection symptoms and its prevention by following high standards of hygiene, cleaning and sanitation and following social distancing. Delivery/transport vehicles shall be cleaned and sanitized (and if possible, disinfected) regularly. This vehicle should only be used for food deliveries/distribution. Cleaning and sanitation records should be available in the vehicle at all times. Drivers, loaders and other support staff displaying flu like or COVID-19 symptoms shall refrain from handling/transporting/delivering food.  They shall be provided with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which may be fixed in the driver’s cabin. Face covers shall be worn at all times. Drivers, loaders and other support staff should avoid using public toilets as much as possible. Drivers and other staff delivering to food premises should not leave their vehicles during delivery (if possible), and shall refrain from stopping in between for tea breaks, etc. If a vehicle enters an area marked as a COVID-19 hotspot, then the vehicle shall be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before use.

In case of packaging recent research has evaluated the survival of the COVID-19 virus on different surfaces and reported that the virus can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to four hours on copper, and up to 24 hours on cardboard. The consumers are very unlikely to get infected with COVID-19 by touching groceries and shopping bags if proper hygienic practices are maintained.  However by touching surfaces that may have the virus may be the indirect way of virus spreads to address any such concerns, provide single use (paper or plastic, where appropriate) bags for bagging customer groceries. Also provide alcohol-based hand antiseptic rubs (with 70% ethyl alcohol as the active ingredient) for consumers. Rinse fruits and vegetables before cutting or eating. Rinse raw agricultural products, under running water prior to cutting or serving.

Shabir Ahmed Lone is  Food Safety Officer