By Amy Matheson, PFP Communications & Research Coordinator
We all want to do the right thing and keep safe during COVID -19, and for food outlets there is the extra onus to keep your customers safe too. As many cafes prepare to reopen, there has been much talk about disposable vs reusable foodware, and what is the safest option during COVID -19.
Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of rumour that single-use is safest, resulting in fears that reusables were unsafe, something not supported by the facts. Fears regarding reusables have also been exploited by the opportunistic petrochemical industry.
The rumour mill (prompted by some industry associations) most recently suggested that food outlets need to use plastic foodware when they reopen. We have compiled the official government and health industry advice given to Australian food outlets on this matter, and this rumour is simply not true.
There is NO suggestion or regulation anywhere in Australia that businesses must use single-use foodware in order to fulfill COVID-safe reopening regulations.
Keeping places safe
It is important that protocols are based on science and government guidance, not rumour. All State and Territory Government advisories say essentially the same thing, making your place COVID-safe is about practicing social distancing and following good hygiene protocols.
It is not about what items you are using - viruses can exist on both single-use and reusables alike. Normal dishwashing practices can remove the virus from reusables- the same cannot be said for single-use packaging, which usually cannot be washed.
The key official messages are:
Follow social distancing rules
Practice good hygiene when preparing and handling food
Wash your hands frequently
Clean and sanitise food preparation surfaces and tables
Safe handling protocols for menus, foodware and condiments will minimise risks
Reusables & hygiene, the facts
Government advice follows the recommendations from Food Standards Australia's Food safety checks for food businesses preparing to recommence pre-restriction operations:
‘Areas used for food preparation and serving will need to be thoroughly cleaned, and food preparation surfaces and utensils cleaned and sanitised before use to ensure there is no risk to food safety’.
Clean packaged (sealed) food if required, before opening it
Check all stocks of food packaging materials are clean (e.g. takeaway containers)
Clean all food areas and clean and sanitise food surfaces, utensils and equipment
Clean customer areas and clean and sanitise crockery and cutlery etc.
The usual task of clearing foodware after each course and washing using a commercial grade dishwasher or glasswasher is the perfect behaviour during the pandemic (and required under all state guidelines for reusables).
This means that your businesses can have total control of foodware handling, a situation that cannot be claimed for disposable items. You can continue to use your own crockery and cutlery and you do not have to purchase additional costly single-use items.
When it comes to menus, we suggest discarding table menus and using display menus and giving customers access to on-line menus through their phones. Bulk condiment containers (washed after each use) are safer than sachets, constantly handled, and not easily cleaned. Note: some states require bulk condiments and self-service stations such as communal water to be removed – please check the advice of your relevant state government below. If unsure what replacements are allowed, it would be worth asking them what alternatives for these they recommend.
So let the relevant authorities guide you, welcome your customers through your door and let them be seated with good old fashioned crockery, your finest crystal glasses and shiniest silverware.
There is so much that counts for a good dine-in experience, with quality and hygienic reusables playing a major part. As well, when margins are tighter than ever, single-use just doesn't make economic sense.
See below for specific information and state guidelines for food retailers.
Specific guidelines and requirements for Australian states and territories:
Health Vic: Advice for Food Businesses
NSW Government Food Authority: Food Businesses and COVID-19
QLD Government: COVID-safe Checklist for Dining in
QLD Health: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Safe Food QLD: COVID-19 Advice for Food Businesses
SA Health: Advice for Food Businesses and Industry
SA Government: Roadmap to Recovery – Outdoor Dining
WA Health: Food safety and COVID-19
ACT Government: COVID-19 Information for Businesses
ACT Health: COVID-19 Dine-in Checklist
Northern Territory Government: Guidelines for Food Businesses
Tasmanian Government: COVID-19 Food Safety Advice
New Zealand: COVID-19 and Food Safety
For general advice:
World Health Organisation: COVID-19 and Food Safety: Guidance for Food Businesses
Latest Australian COVID-19 updates, see the Australian Government Health website
Food safety requirements, Standards 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 apply to all Australian businesses.
Safe Work Australia: COVID-19 Information for Workplaces
Australian workplace laws: Fair Work Ombudsman