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COVID-19 : Retail food premises

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the food retail sector faces the greatest challenges in maintaining the highest standards of hygiene, protecting staff from the risk of infection, maintaining physical distancing when dealing with large numbers of customers, remaining open, and ensuring that adequate supplies of foods are available on a daily basis.

Food workers in retail premises are unlikely to contaminate food if they follow standard, good personal hygiene practices that reduce the risk of transmission of most food borne illnesses. Measures such as frequent hand washing, use of hand sanitizers, use of protective clothing, good respiratory hygiene, will reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Employers should stress the importance of more frequent hand washing and maintaining good hygiene practices, and of more frequently cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are touched regularly. Food workers need to be aware of symptoms of COVID-19 and inform their employer and seek medical advice if they think they have symptoms of the disease.

Maintaining physical distancing in retail food premises is critical for reducing the risk of transmission of the disease. Practical measures that may be used by retailers include the following:

  • Regulating the numbers of customers who enter the retail store to avoid overcrowding;
  • Placing signs at entry points to request customers not to enter the shop if they are unwell or have COVID19 symptoms;
  • Managing queue control consistent with physical distancing advice both inside and outside stores;
  • Providing hand sanitizers, spray disinfectants, and disposable paper towels at store entry points;
  • Using floor markings inside the retail store to facilitate compliance with the physical distancing, particularly in the most crowded areas, such as serving counters and tills;
  • Making regular announcements to remind customers to follow physical distancing advice and clean their hands regularly;
  •  Introducing Plexiglas barriers at tills and counters as an additional level of protection for staff;
  • Encouraging the use of contactless payments;
  • As consumers increasingly bring their own shopping bags, advice to consumers to clean their shopping bags before every use shall be posted in the food retail premises (shops, outlets, supermarkets).

Minimize the risk of transmitting COVID-19 by identifying high touch points in the retail premises and ensuring these are cleaned and disinfected regularly. Examples of high touch points are shopping trolleys, door handles, and weighing scales for customer use. Actions to be taken include:

  • Providing wipes (or other forms of sanitization) for customers to clean the handles of shopping trolleys and baskets; or assigning staff to disinfect handles of shopping trolleys after each use;
  • Washing and frequent sanitizing items such as ladles, tongs, and condiment holders;
  • Keeping doors open where possible to minimize contact.

 

Open food display in retail premises

Although some consumers perceive there is a risk of COVID19 infection resulting from open food displays, there is currently no scientific evidence suggesting that food is associated with transmission of the COVID-19 virus. It is important to maintain good hygiene practices around open food displays, such as salad bars, fresh produce displays, and bakery products. Consumers should always be advised to wash fruit and vegetables with potable water before consumption. Both customers and staff should strictly observe good personal hygiene practices at all times around open food areas.

In order to hygienically manage open food displays and to avoid the transmission of COVID-19 through surface contact, food retailers should:

  • Maintain frequent washing and sanitizing of all food contact surfaces and utensils;
  • Require food service workers to frequently wash hands, and, if using gloves, these must be changed before and after preparing food;
  • Require food service workers to frequently clean and sanities counters, serving utensils and condiment containers;
  • Make available hand sanitizer for consumers on their way in and out of the food premises;
  • Should consider not openly displaying or selling unwrapped bakery products from self-service counters. Bakery products on open, self-service displays in retail stores should be placed in plastic/cellophane or paper packaging. Where loose bakery products are displayed in retail stores, these should be placed in Plexiglas display cabinets and placed in bags using tongs when customers are served.

-WHO