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FSSAI guidelines on COVID-19 to be the Rosetta Stone for food business operators in the post lockdown phase

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The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India recently came up with a guidance note titled “Food Hygiene and Safety Guidelines for Food Businesses during Disease () Pandemic.

FSSAI guidelines on COVID-19 to be the Rosetta Stone for food business operators in the post lockdown phase

The guidelines cover the best practices to be followed by food handlers for maintain high standards of personal hygiene, safe food practices, implementation of GHP and GMP practices as per Schedule 4 of FSS Act as well as for ensuring the necessary protocols of social distancing.

The guidelines, spelled out in a 14-page exhaustive note various suggests measures that need to be taken by the food business operators (FBOs). “These specific measures, detailed in the document, include maintaining high levels of personal hygiene; excluding COVID-19 infected persons from the operations; practicing social distancing; and appropriate cleaning/sanitisation of the food operations’ premises, food contact materials etc,” said in a statement.

As per the guidelines, food business owners or employers should have a COVID 19 screening protocol in place to screen all personnel entering the premises. Those with temperature more than 99 degree Fahrenheit and/or flu like symptoms should not be allowed to enter establishments. Large food businesses have been asked to set up a local emergency response team to handle suspected coronavirus case.

The document is primarily intended for all types of food businesses including food service, transport and retail operations. The guidance has been developed based on the best practices currently recognized and adopted internationally.

Although there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of COVID-19 virus, it is important to take all precautions to prevent any possibility of person to person spread of COVID-19 infection during food business operations, the statement said.

The FSSAI said that FBOs are already following various hygienic and sanitary measures as per Schedule IV of Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011. “Nevertheless, COVID-19 situation demands implementation of some additional focussed measures mainly to prevent human-to-human spread of the disease in food business operations and also to reduce the likelihood of contamination of various materials in contact with food such as equipment, packaging materials etc,” the statement said.

FSSAI’s detailed guidelines and measures are for various types of food businesses, which they need to act on in addition to those specified under the FSS Act, to prevent spread of COVID-19.

“Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which is caused by a new type of coronavirus, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The disease is transmitted from person to person primarily through close contact with one another, and respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In the absence of a known cure for the disease, all efforts are towards prevention of the spread of this disease from person to person,” FSSAI noted.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection, the guidelines spell out three major steps. These are:

– Maintain high levels of personal hygiene;
– Practice social distancing at all times
– Cleaning and sanitation

The guidelines state that food business shall ensure that high hygiene standards are being followed in line with the established Food Safety Management System (FSMS) and these practices include:
– Proper hand hygiene: Washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 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.
– Prepare for fewer customers and make plans for take-out and delivery options that will work with the available staff and supply resources. Use social media to communicate with your local customers.
– No ready-to-eat food item shall be left open and shall be kept covered or in glass displays. Use gloves to avoid direct bare hand contact with ready-to-cat foods.
– There should be visible notices pasted, for staff promoting hand hygiene and physical distancing.
– Help customers to maintain social distancing by way of encouraging spacing between the customers while in line for service or check out in accordance to the social distancing norms (minimum 1 meter gap). Establish designated pick-up zones for customers to help maintain social distancing.

The guidelines state that buffet system in food service and mass gathering should be disallowed during COVID-19 pandemic; such services shall be resumed only under directions from the concerned Statutory Authorities. In case such services are allowed by the Authorities, food establishment shall ensure that:
– Dedicated food handler(s) should serve food items to customers instead of multiple customers using the serving spoons.
– Minimum 1 meter gap is maintained between the food handler and customer.
– Minimum 1 meter gap is maintained between the seating space and tables in the service area.
– High touch points such as countertops, tongs, ladles, handles, etc. should be cleaned and disinfected frequently. (Note: During period, food service is limited to community kitchens, staff cafeterias of essential food business, defence and certain government departments, if permitted to function during this period for staff on duty. In future, if other food service establishments are permitted to resume service during Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, they shall abide by the following guidelines).

In the case of food delivery, the guidelines state that food handlers should ensure that:
– Face is covered with a clean mask or a face cover, hands are sanitised 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 should be sanitised after coming in contact with common touch points.
– Contactless delivery methods shall be encouraged.

The guidelines further state that 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 sanitise their hands afterwards.

Customers shall be encouraged to use contactless modes of payments such as UPI, QR codes, net-banking, e-wallets, etc. In case credit/debit cards are used, the card machine shall be sanitised with 70 percent alcohol after each use.

If possible, food businesses shall provide disposable menu, utensils, cutlery, and single use sachet (of salt pepper, sugar, ketchup, etc) instead of reusable utensils, cutlery, bottles or salt shakers; else the same should be frequently cleaned, after each use.

The guidelines for Food Retail Premises are:
– All employees shall wear clean clothes/uniforms, headgear/cap, face masks and gloves at all times.
– Food businesses shall ensure that limited number of customers entering the store at one point of time. Hand sanitization should be provided at points of entry and exit of a premise to all. Pre screening of the employees/ workers should be done before start of work and Individuals suspected of having COVID-19 symptoms should be prevented from entering the premises.
– Social distancing norms should be followed by staff and consumers. Floor markings, stickers, cte. should be used to maintain the required gap between consumers, while they wait for their turn to enter the shop or for billing.
– Make regular announcements and counters about social distancing. Flexi-glass barriers at tills while they wait for their turn to enter the shop or for Filing. regular to remind consumers may be used as an additional level of protection for staff.
– Reduce the stock quantity on display. This will help display and create a gap between two products in maintaining social distancing while shopping.
– Common touch points — door handles, racks, billing counters, and handles of baskets/trollies — should be sanitized and cleaned after every use.

The guidelines for Food Transportation or Distribution are:
– Drivers, loaders and other support staff shall be trained about the COVID-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 delivery/distribution.
– Cleaning and sanitation records should be available in the vehicle at all times.
– Drivers, loaders and other support staff displaying fu like or COVID-19 symptoms shall refrain from handling/transporting delivering food.
– Drivers, loaders and other support staff shall maintain high standards of personal hygiene. 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.