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. 

VDH/OEHS/DFGES Revised (5/15/2020)

Mandatory requirements:

Businesses must strictly adhere to the physical distancing guidelines, enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices, and enhanced workplace safety practices provided in the “Guidelines for All Business Sectors” document. Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulated facilities must continue to follow requirements related to prohibiting sick employees in the workplace, strict handwashing practices, and procedures and practices to clean and sanitize surfaces.

During Phase I, businesses should continue to offer takeout and delivery options. If businesses choose to open to dine-in customers, they may only do so in outdoor spaces and must adhere to the following additional requirements for outdoor service:

  • Post signage at the entrance that states that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19, or known exposure to a COVID-19 case in the prior 14 days, is permitted in the establishment.
  • Post signage to provide public health reminders regarding physical distancing, gatherings, options for high risk individuals, and staying home if sick (See samples at the bottom of this document).
  • Occupancy must be limited to no more than 50% of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy, if applicable, while maintaining a minimum of six feet of physical distancing between all individuals as much as possible.
  • Provide a minimum of six feet between parties at tables, (i.e., the six feet cannot include the space taken up by the seated guest). If tables are not movable, seat parties at least six feet apart. Spacing must also allow for physical distancing from areas outside of the facility’s control (i.e. provide physical distancing from persons on public sidewalks).
  • Do not seat parties of more than 10 patrons. All parties, whether seated together or across multiple tables, must be limited to 10 patrons or less.
  • Do not seat multiple parties at any one table unless marked with six foot divisions (such as with tape).
  • Bar seats and congregating areas of restaurants must be closed to patrons except for through-traffic. Non-bar seating in the outdoor bar area (i.e., tables or counter seats that do not line up to a bar or food service area) may be used for customer seating as long as a minimum of six feet is provided between parties at tables.
  • Keep game areas, dance floors, and playgrounds closed. If live musicians are performing at an establishment, they must remain at least six feet from patrons and staff.
  • Employees working in customer dining and service areas are required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth, such as using CDC Use of Cloth Face Coverings guidance.
  • Use single-use disposable menus (e.g., paper) and discard after each customer. Reusable menus are not permitted in Phase I. Refilling food and beverage containers or implements brought in by customers is not allowed in Phase I.
  • Prior to each shift, employers should ask that the employee self-measure their temperature and assess symptoms. Please see VDH Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers During Widespread Community Transmission.
  • No self-service of food (except beverages), including condiments. Condiments must be removed from tables and dispensed by employees upon the request of a customer. Buffets must be staffed by servers. For self-service beverage areas, use beverage equipment designed to dispense by a contamination-free method.
  • Perform thorough cleaning and disinfection of frequently contacted surfaces including digital ordering devices, check presenters, self-service areas, tabletops, bathroom surfaces, and other common touch areas every 60 minutes during operation. Tabletops and credit card/bill folders must be disinfected between patrons.
  • Table resets must be done by an employee who has washed their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds just prior to reset activities.
  • Only 10 patrons may wait for takeout in the lobby area at one time.

Best Practice:

In addition to the requirements provided above, establishments are encouraged to utilize the following best practices to the extent they are feasible:

  • Encourage customers to wear face coverings while entering, exiting, or otherwise traveling throughout the restaurant. Face coverings may be removed while seated.
  • Utilize reservations for dining on the premises.
  • Use staff facilitated seating where appropriate. If seating is not staff facilitated and tables cannot be moved to meet the physical distancing requirements outlined above, tables that should not be used must be clearly marked that they are out of service.
  • Assign employee(s) to monitor and clean high touch areas while in operation.
  • Use technology solutions where possible to reduce person-to-person interaction, including mobile ordering and menu tablets, text on arrival for seating, and contactless payment options.
  • Consider methods to make point of sale terminals safer, including use of no contact applications, placement of a glass or clear plastic barrier between the employee and the customer, and providing a hand sanitizer station for customer and employee use after handling credit/debit cards, PIN terminals, or exchange of cash.
  • Servers should avoid touching items on tables while customers are seated. Dedicated staff should remove all items from the table when customer(s) leave.
  • Consider scheduled closure periods throughout the day to allow for cleaning and disinfecting, including bathrooms (i.e., after lunch service).
  • Use separate doors to enter and exit the establishment when possible.
  • When protective equipment such as face coverings are used, launder daily and wash hands after touching/adjusting face covering while working.
  • Single-use items should be discarded. Consider using rolled silverware and eliminating table presets.
  • Consider installing touchless door and sink systems or providing single-use barriers (e.g., deli tissues, paper towels) for use when touching door and sink handles.
  • Implement procedures to increase how often the back-of-house areas are cleaned and sanitized.

Social distancing requirements (view the Executive Order 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 takeout 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 takeout 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.

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.


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. Additional symptoms may include chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell.
  •  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.

On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released an updated recommendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.  CDC recommends the use of simple cloth face coverings as a voluntary public health measure in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). If restaurant workers choose to use a cloth face covering to slow the spread of COVID-19:

The cloth face coverings recommended by CDC are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.  Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

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

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.

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.