Top tips for reopening your catering business after Covid 19 closure

Any restaurant, café or caterer that is not offering a take away or delivery service will hopefully be able to re open early July 2020. This is following the compulsory business closures under the Coronavirus Regulations. Sadly there will have been a lot of casualties and many  businesses will have been forced to closed. However others will now be chomping at the bit to re open as soon as possible, to recoup some much needed business and income,following the months of forced closure.

There is a huge amount of advice and information available in government guidance documents and best practice from consultants and trade bodies to help caterers reopen after closure. However if you are planning on re opening and don’t know where to begin here are my top 10 tips to get you started:

1.What could go wrong in your premises?

Think about how your staff and customers could be at risk from catching coronavirus from an infected person whilst they are AT your premises. This could be from being close to or touching a person or from contaminated hand contact surfaces.

Then write down what you need to do to make sure this does not happen. This will become your site specific risk assessment. Always keep in the front of your mind that coronavirus is a respiratory illness so you should be focusing on reducing this risk by limiting, wherever possible, contact with others via social distancing. For example: separate entrances and exits, contactless payments etc

2. Review your food safety management system or HACCP

If are changing what type of food you are offering, a reduced menu, introducing different menu items or doing delivery or takeaway. you will need to update your food safety plan. You can do this by reviewing your safe methods in SFBB or the steps and controls in your own HACCP system. At the same time think about allergens, your personal hygiene including handwashing and your cleaning policy.

3. Signage

Follow the journey of your customers and staff from outside to inside your premises. Think about how they access the car park, queue before entering the building, the entry to the building and where they wait or queue, how they get to their table and pay, use the toilets and finally leave.

Make signage clear, simple and easy to understand. You can use posters, directional arrows and informational stickers on the floor. This will help a customer who has never been to your place but also for your first customers as their experience of eating out will no doubt be very different than pre Covid.

Customers will be apprehensive, even anxious as they will want to feel safe. Social distancing is very confusing, as understandably it is and has to be different for each and every business, so reducing this to a minimum will help your customers to start feeling more confident about eating.

4. Pre-cleaning of food preparation areas and other areas

Clean and disinfect all food preparation areas including equipment, preparation surfaces, fridges, walls, floors, ceilings – the lot. This is a food safety measure to make sure any dirt or bacteria is removed. A 2-stage clean is a good idea to firstly remove dirt with detergent and hot soapy water and then to use a disinfectant to destroy any bacteria.

Front of house and other non-food areas can be cleaned with a disinfectant with a bleach base  (+1000ppm available chlorine) which will kill viruses.

Increase how often you clean and pay attention to high traffic areas and touch points. Also make cleaning materials readily available for staff to use.

(just a note on cleaning –  caterers should carry on using their usual food safe disinfectants to clean their kitchens that comply with BSEN1276 and 13697. There is also a new kid on the block BSEN14476 which is viricidal tested to destroy viruses like coronavirus.)

4. Check handwashing availability

Make sure all hand wash basins for customers and staff are fully stocked with hot water, soap and disposable towels. Think about providing extra pop up or permanent hand wash basins to encourage customers and staff to wash their hands more frequently than normal.

Remember soap is effective in getting rid of the coronavirus and is one of the most important ways to help everyone stay safe.

Also provide hand sanitiser (with at least 70% alcohol base) at hand wash stations and in other areas where handwashing is not available.

6. Check for pests

If your premises has been closed, check for signs of pests such as droppings. Also make sure it is properly proofed and there is no access for pests. If you have a pest control contract you could get them to do a pre-site opening survey.

7. Check your water system

You should do this before opening particularly if the building your business is located in has been shut and the water system has not been flushed through. There is some good advice in the guidance link here to help you

8. Check your food stocks

Have a look at all your dried and tinned foods for contamination from pests. Also check ‘best before’ dates as if food is past this date then the quality could be affected although the food will still be safe to eat.

Also check that any opened food is still within it’s ‘once opened consume within’ date and frozen food as well.

9. Staff training on food safety and Covid 19

You as an employer have a duty to train all your staff on your Coronavirus site specific risk assessment. You must make sure they understand what they must do to keep themselves and your customers safe. The risk assessment is dependent on everyone following it and staff who are trained in your new system are in the best place help this happen.

Send staff instructions of how they can return to work safely before their first day back and any pre screening of staff that is required.

Also update your staff on any changes in food hygiene  and refresh their knowledge if required by organising food hygiene training.

10. New ways of working

And finally consider any new ways of working which will help to keep staff safe such as splitting your team into shift, groups or bubbles to limit contact with others.

Also look at work flow and one-way systems, staggered shifts and breaks.

Kitchens and eating places are often limited for space to create a ‘cosy’ atmosphere and enhance customer’s experience. This is going to create a huge challenge for caterers. There is no doubt that coronavirus has changed the eating out landscape and ‘things won’t be the same’. But we humans are an adaptable race and in time this may become the ‘new normal’, watch this space!

In my next blog I will be giving advice on putting together a risk assessment for your food business including how to write a risk assessment and some sample controls you could use.


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