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Man shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic

Feeding the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic: information for food and drink businesses

Food and drink businesses are playing vital roles in feeding the nation during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the Rt. Hon. George Eustace pointed out recently: “I want to pay tribute to all those who are working around the clock to keep the nation fed – in our fields, processing plants, factories, wholesalers, stores and takeaways and all of those moving goods around the country and to our homes."1

However, businesses in the food and drink sector face a range of unprecedented challenges – and there are a range of measures in place, from government and industry bodies like the Food and Drink Federation, to help firms navigate these pressures.

Food, Packaging, and Hygiene

The latest government advice is that catching coronavirus from food or food packaging is very unlikely.2 However, it also advises strengthening hygiene practices, to protect staff and customers. This includes ensuring food handlers stay at home if they feel ill, more frequent hand washing, and maintaining good hygiene practices in food preparation and handling areas – frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.

Further guidance on expected food hygiene standards can be found in the Food Standards Agency’s safer food, better business fact sheet.

Employee and Customer Safety

Government advice on social distancing applies to everyone. So, food and drink businesses are asked to adopt a range of measures, from signage and floor markings to regular safety announcements, to maintain a distance of two metres between individuals.

Some specific guidance for businesses operating with customers on the premises includes:

  • Offering specific time slots for elderly or vulnerable customers.
  • Maintaining social distancing in queues and within the shop.
  • Asking customers not to touch stock and return it to shelves.
  • Ensuring the cleanliness of equipment e.g. baskets, trolleys, tills, and touch screens.
  • Installing measures to maintain social distancing at tills.
  • Encouraging people to use contactless payment whenever possible rather than handling cash.

Similarly, food and drink businesses are advised to ensure suppliers maintain social distancing and hygiene protocols during stock delivery or collection.

More detailed guidance can be found in the government guide, Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus.

Employee Sickness and Staffing

Staff illness and absence during the pandemic is a threat to food and drink businesses, but a number of initiatives are in place to both protect staff who fall ill, and maintain staffing levels.

For instance, smaller businesses (fewer than 250 employees) can reclaim statutory sick pay paid to employees absent due to Coronavirusii. Meanwhile, a number of low-cost staff recruitment platforms have been established to help food and drink businesses maintain necessary staffing levels. They include:

  • Syft: An online temporary recruitment agency and workforce management tool.
  • SWAP: The Spare Workers Availability Portal, which lists over 5,000 available workers.

More information and support, including for non-members, is available from the Food and Drink Federation.

Adaptation and Diversification

Many smaller food businesses, like restaurants and cafés, have adapted their businesses during the coronavirus pandemic – for instance, establishing takeaway and delivery services. Government advice is in place to help these businesses continue trading while observing social distancing rules. They include only taking orders by telephone or online, staggering collection times, and using queue management to maintain social distancing. Furthering information fort those offering takeaway services is available here.

Some best practice guidance for those establishing delivery services includes:

  • Ensuring people doing deliveries have made their motor insurers aware.
  • Making your insurers aware that your business is doing deliveries if it was not previously.
  • Providing employees with a letter to confirm they are undertaking ‘essential travel’ to work or on deliveries.
  • Encouraging social distancing during deliveries.
  • Taking photographs of deliveries rather than asking customers to sign for them.

Similarly, some businesses have sought to diversify as a means of offsetting lost revenue. A number of drinks companies, BrewDog for instance, have adapted production lines to produce hand sanitiser, with the government fast-tracking licence applications. More information is available here.

Food Waste

The government has made available £3.25 million of funding to help cut food waste and redistribute up to 14,000 tonnes of surplus stock during the coronavirus outbreak.

The funding is in place to help overcome operational barriers to obtaining, storing and transporting food safely from restaurants as they close in response to coronavirus. Commenting on the move, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “I am proud of the many organisations across the UK working to ensure food and supplies are provided to those who need it most need during this challenging time."3

More information on the scheme can be found here.

Government Financial Support

Finally, food and drink businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, or by government steps to slow its spread, can access a range of government support, including, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and support for firms in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sectors.

For more information on government support for businesses, read the latest guidance.

For More Advice Regarding the Coronavirus

For our latest news and guidance on the Coronavirus epidemic, visit our resource centre which will be updated daily as the situation develops, so please check back often for the latest material.

If you are a client and have any questions, please contact your usual Marsh Commercial account executive. For everyone else, please use our general enquiry form.


1. fdf.org.uk/letter-from-george-eustice-defra-sos
2. gov.uk/guidance-for-food-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19
3. gov.uk/cash-support-for-food-redistribution-during-coronavirus-outbreak