VDH Guidance for Food Establishments Regarding COVID‐19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed interim guidance for businesses and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID‐19). The purpose of this document from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is to summarize key CDC recommendations and provide VDH‐specific recommendations or details for food and food establishments.

Key Concepts and Recommendations for Food Establishments

  1. There is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.  Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. This includes between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill – to prevent foodborne illness.

 According to the CDC, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures

  1. Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:
  • Employees who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home.
  •  Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions.
  • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
  • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
  • Per CDC guidelines, employers are encouraged to not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
  • Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
  • Employees that were exposed to a known case may be asked to self-isolate for the incubation period of the disease. For COVID-19, the period of isolation is 14 days from the last date of exposure, because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses. 
  • Per CDC guidelines, patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low.
  • CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. 
  1. Food establishments should continue to practice routine environmental cleaning, including in customer areas and frequently‐touched surfaces. Consider providing customer areas with tissues and alcohol‐based hand sanitizer. Clean and disinfect any objects or surfaces that may have been touched by those coughing or sneezing. 

IMPORTANT: Check the product label guidelines for if and where these disinfectant products are safe and recommended for use in food manufacturing areas or food establishments. 

  1. If a person suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in your facility,
    • CDC recommends closing off areas used by the ill persons and waiting as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
    • Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
    • Cleaning staff should wear disposable gloves and gowns for all tasks in the cleaning process, including handling trash.
      • Gloves and gowns should be compatible with the disinfectant products being used.
      • Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) might be required based on the cleaning/disinfectant products being used and whether there is a risk of splash.
      • Gloves and gowns should be removed carefully to avoid contamination of the wearer and the surrounding area. Be sure to clean hands after removing gloves.
    • Cleaning staff should immediately report breaches in PPE (e.g., tear in gloves) or any potential exposures to their supervisor.
    • Cleaning staff and others should clean hands often, including immediately after removing gloves.

Additional information from the FDA is available here.

  1. Social distancing requirements (for more information click here.)
    • Beginning March 24, 2020 at 11:59 pm, food service must be limited to service of food intended for off-premise consumption ONLY. Eliminate seating of patrons on the premises (indoors or outdoors).
    • Restaurant lobbies may remain open for take-out only. The restaurant must maintain adequate social distancing and may only allow up to 10 patrons in the lobby at one time. Facilities are encouraged to bring take-out orders outside. This will better protect patrons and restaurant employees, and reduce the number of persons touching lobby/entrance surfaces like door handles.
    • Home delivery of orders is allowed.
    • Management should encourage customers waiting to pick up orders to maintain a minimum of 6 foot spacing.
    • Self-service of foods is not allowed.
    • Management should identify and implement operational changes that increase employee separation; however, social distancing to the full 6 feet may not be possible in some food facilities. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the risk of an employee transmitting COVID-19 to another is dependent on distance between employees, the duration of the exposure, and the effectiveness of employee hygiene practices and sanitation. When it’s impractical for employees in these settings to maintain social distancing, effective hygiene practices should be maintained to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. 
    • Maintaining social distancing in the absence of effective hygiene practices may not prevent the spread of this virus. Food facilities should be vigilant in their hygiene practices, including frequent and proper hand-washing and routine cleaning of all surfaces.  
  1. Food establishments may serve any food from their restaurant, whether prepared as a menu item or not, directly to the consumer as long as they are serving food from sources that comply with law (12VAC5-421-270/3-201.11) and serving directly to the consumer. Packages should be labeled with the common name of the food and list any allergens.
  2. The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
  3. Race, ethnicity, and national origin are not factors in the likelihood of contracting COVID‐19. Cuisines reflective of regions where outbreaks are occurring pose no specific risk to consumers.
  4. Coordination with state and local health officials is strongly encouraged for all businesses; keep up to date on the COVID‐19 situation and guidance specific to your local community.

VDH/OEHS Revised (3/24/2020)