Regulator issues coronavirus guidance for food businesses: ‘Advice on social distancing measures applies to everyone’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Supermarket retailer Sainsbury's has implemented social distancing measures ©GettyImages/Alessandro Mariscalco
Supermarket retailer Sainsbury's has implemented social distancing measures ©GettyImages/Alessandro Mariscalco

Related tags Coronavirus COVID COVID-19

New advice for food businesses operating amid the coronavirus outbreak addresses social distancing in food processing plants, supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways in the UK.

The guidance was developed by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Otherwise known as COVD-19, the novel coronavirus is spread from human-to-human mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

While it is ‘very unlikely’ that COVID-19 is transmitted through food, the virus can be transmitted in areas where food is processed, packaged, or sold.  

Aside from ensuring any food handler who may be unwell, or showing coronavirus symptoms, stay at home, the FSA and Defra have outlined key guidance – with a focus on social distancing – for food businesses during the pandemic.

“The advice on social distancing measures applies to everyone,” ​noted the Government, highlighting the need to maintain a distance of two metres between individuals both within food businesses and while queuing outside.

Food processing plants

Employees working in food processing plants should continue to follow ‘the highest hygiene standards’, according to the Government, including the use of some personal protective equipment and frequent hand washing.

Concerning social distancing, all employers are expected to follow social distancing guidance ‘as far as is reasonably possible’.

Where the production environment may make this challenging, employers should consider what measures may be put in place to protect employees, noted the Government.

“Once staff have left the food processing areas and removed protective clothing, social distancing and further hand washing guidance should be adhered to.”


According to the guidance, supermarkets much avoid crowding and create adequate spacing between individuals.

Effective measures could include monitoring the number of customers within store and limiting access to avoid congestion, implementing queue management systems to limit crowds gathering at entrances, and reminding consumers to only buy what they need.

Further, Public Health England (PHE) has voiced its support for measures that allow safe supermarket access to the elderly and essential staff, such as NHS workers.

Supermarket retailer Asda, for example, is prioritising NHS workers in larger stores every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8am to 9am.

Sainsbury’s is open only to elderly and vulnerable shoppers from 8am to 9am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Tesco is prioritising NHS staff from 5am on Sundays. Other participating retailers include Morrisons, Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose, and Co-op.

Takeaways and restaurants offering a pick-up service

Ten days ago (20 March 2020), the UK Government told pubs, restaurants and cafes to close. In an effort to stay afloat amid these exceptional circumstances, a number of takeaways and restaurants are offering a pick-up service.

Where this is the case, the Government has stated that no orders should be taken in person on the premises. This should be communicated to customers by appropriate means, such as signage, and orders be taken either online or by telephone.

Restaurants and takeaways have also been advised to implement staggered collection times, and to discourage customers from entering the premises until their order is ready.

“Customers whose orders are ready should enter one at a time to collect orders and make payments,” ​noted the Government.

“Businesses should discourage crowding outside the premises. Where possible, use queue management systems to maintain the two-metres separation.”

The full guidance, covering food hygiene and managing sick employees is available here​.

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