Operating a Food Business in Unstable Times

Learn how food businesses can navigate uncertainty by implementing best practices.
July 20, 2020

Many food businesses throughout Canada have been permitted to reopen their doors and begin dine-in service again after lengthy closures. Despite these welcomed reopenings, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and pockets of outbreaks could pop up and cause food businesses to close again. In order to prepare for this possibility, food businesses must not become complacent with COVID-19 requirements and best practices, even if the case numbers are low in their area. The following is a list of best practices that all food businesses should implement in order to operate safely and be ready for a possible re-closure.

Maintain your business model

During the lockdowns, many food businesses switched to a take-out or delivery model of business if it was possible to do so. These business models required a different way of working than some businesses were used to, and many had to make significant changes to adapt and be successful with this type of business model. Now that some food businesses are reopening for dine-in service, there may be an urge to drop take-out or delivery services. However, it is important to keep up the take-out and delivery service as food businesses can easily be required to shut their doors again due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in their area.

Keep a reduced menu

During shutdowns, there was significantly less customers that were purchasing meals and this meant that food businesses needed to cut down on the amount of food kept on the premises and streamline their menu. For food businesses that provided take-out or delivery service, they needed to cut back on their menu items as not all dishes maintain their appearance and texture after travelling in a food container. It is also risky to provide take-out for certain types of foods, such as some high-risk foods, which must be kept within a certain temperature range to minimize bacterial growth or the formation of toxins that can cause food poisoning.

At this time, it is advised not to begin ordering large quantities of food, moving back to a full menu or even adding complex dishes to the menu. If a lockdown is reinstated, food businesses who are affected will be required to close their doors again which can lead to major food waste and financial losses for the business.

Maintain COVID-19 protocols

Food businesses must maintain the protocols that were instated as part of their reopening plan. This includes adhering to the updated cleaning and sanitizing schedule and ensuring that these tasks are being completed frequently and properly by staff. Food businesses must also ensure that staff are continuously updated on essential information such as: COVID-19 symptoms to be aware of; the proper hand washing technique; how to properly use personal protective equipment such as face masks; and COVID-19 rules and regulations that apply to the business.

It is essential that these topics are discussed frequently with staff so that they stay top of mind. It is easy for staff members to fall back into old habits or forget COVID-19 protocols if they are not updated or trained on them regularly. Should the food business need to shut down again, these protocols will continue to be of extreme importance if the business continues with take-out and delivery services.

Keep communicating

Food businesses need to have a plan in place for communicating with customers in the event of another closure. This plan includes:

  • training staff on what to say to customers either in person or on the phone
  • obtaining signage for doors, windows or other areas of the business
  • updating websites and social media accounts

Food business owners and management must also ensure that all staff members are kept up-to-date on the current situation. Keeping staff members up-to-date about fluctuations in business operations helps staff members to feel involved and informed. All staff members need to be made aware of any tightening of restrictions that may be coming and how that may affect their roles in the business or their jobs. It is important to demonstrate to staff members that they are important and that management will always keep them updated on any changes.

Create a pre-closure checklist

A pre-closure checklist helps food businesses to be prepared in the case that they are required to close again. This checklist should address items such as communicating with employees, retrieving workwear, ensuring suitable security for the premises, communicating with landlords and dealing with food in the establishment. This checklist should be reviewed and updated frequently.

Visit the CIFS Resource Library for a COVID-19 Pre-Closure Checklist.

Make a plan for your food

It is important to have a plan in place for what to do with food should a lockdown be reinstated. This plan includes:

  • taking stock of the food in the premises
  • determining what food could be kept on the premises
  • determining what food could be donated
  • determining what foods will spoil or expire

Prepared, cooked, ready-to-eat and thawed foods are foods that cannot be kept in storage during closure. Foods that cannot be kept on the premises during another shutdown should be donated and food businesses need to have a plan in place for donating food.

It is essential that food businesses:

  • research what foods are acceptable for donation
  • research what charitable organizations and charities are in the area
  • speak with organizations about their requirements

By taking these steps now, food businesses can reduce the amount of food waste that will occur should they have to close again.

Note: In Canada, there are specific laws in place to provide protection for companies and individuals who choose to donate food. It is important to note that depending on your province/territory and locality, the laws may vary slightly in their wording or application. It is advised to contact your local legislative authorities for advice about donating food.

Be informed

Food businesses must stay up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 information as information is changing daily. Staying informed is essential to knowing what restrictions apply to a food business and whether current COVID-19 case numbers are leading towards a shutdown again. Food businesses must set aside time every day (or every other day) in order to do this.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety is committed to providing regular COVID-19 updates that affect food businesses and the food industry as a whole.