Frequently Asked Questions
Business Continuity Planning
Safe Food Production Queensland (Safe Food) is working with other Queensland agencies to provide a whole of government approach to managing and assisting with the impacts of novel coronavirus COVID-19. The Queensland government continues to monitor this evolving situation very closely. Your first port of call for accurate, up to date health-related information on COVID-19 is Queensland Health – www.health.qld.gov.au/coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that usually cause respiratory illness. They include viruses that cause the common cold and more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
Current advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) & Department of Health is that COVID-19 is not transmitted by food.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread from human-to-human.
As always good hygiene is the best mechanism to prevent transmission and maintaining effective cleaning of contact surfaces reduces the risk of the spread of the virus.
Further information can be found on the FSANZ website.
While current information suggests that the COVID-19 virus originated in animals, there have not been any reports of livestock becoming sick or playing a significant role in this human disease. Regular hygienic practices should be followed after being around animals. This includes washing hands after touching animals or working in farm and animal housing environments. If you become sick with COVID-19 you should restrict contact with animals, just like you would with people.
The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect your business is through good hygiene practices.
Follow your approved food safety program for cleaning and sanitation of your facility and equipment. Thoroughly cleaning all surfaces with water and detergent and applying commonly used cleaning agents is sufficient.
Ensure surfaces such as door handles, handles to refrigerators, taps and other ‘high touch’ areas are subject to frequent and effective cleaning. Consider whether aspects of the Australian Government guidelines for cleaning will add anything to your standard procedures for cleaning and disinfection of the premises.
All staff should be trained in personal hygiene and how to wash their hands properly. A poster is available to display at handwashing stations in your business.
Employees showing signs of infectious illness (such as coughing, sneezing, flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal illness) must not attend work. It is recommended that the health of all employees be reviewed on a daily basis and any workers showing these symptoms sent home or advised not to come into work.
Follow the Queensland Government’s recommendations regarding self-quarantine of individuals who are considered to be a risk.
Consider if there are any higher risk activities in your business that need to be managed and implement appropriate risk management strategies. For example, if you have face-to-face contact with customers, encourage social distancing and have hand sanitiser available for use.
Ensure your staff are exercising good food safety practices and check on their mental wellbeing during this time.
To reduce the impact of COVID-19 on normal business operations, consider the following:
For more advice, refer to these Guidelines for Reducing Workforce Impacts related to COVID-19 and this Checklist for Reducing Workforce Impact from COVID-19.
Any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 will be isolated and must follow the directions of public health authorities. They will not be released from isolation until they have recovered (tested negative).
A public health official will conduct a detailed interview to determine who that employee has come into contact with while infectious with COVID-19, and determine who is considered to be a casual or close contact.
A business must work with local public health authorities to rapidly trace any close contacts of an infected employee to minimise further risk of spread. Prompt tracing of close contacts is essential to minimise any disruption to production. Close contacts will be asked to isolate at home at the direction of public health authorities for 14 days. For more information, refer to Queensland Health.
If someone does test positive for COVID-19 in your business, it’s important to respect their privacy where possible and treat their condition with understanding and compassion. Check in on their well-being regularly during self-isolation and monitor their mental health.
In some instances additional cleaning and sanitising of the workplace may be indicated if an employee returns a positive test. Businesses are advised to follow the Australian Government Department of Health Environmental cleaning and disinfection principles for COVID-19.
For more advice, refer to these Guidelines for Reducing Workforce Impacts related to COVID-19.
Scientists and authorities across the world continue to investigate COVID-19 and the ways in which it spreads. Safe Food has compiled the following information to assist food businesses and consumers in clarifying sources of risk in the food supply chain.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is responsible for causing the disease known as COVID-19. This virus was previously known as “novel coronavirus”, meaning it was a new type of coronavirus not previously identified in humans.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some can cause respiratory illness in humans, with most infected people experiencing mild symptoms. COVID-19 and other coronavirus types such as MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) can cause more severe symptoms in some people.
There is a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19 and new information about the virus is being discovered every day. The way in which other coronaviruses spread is well known, however. ‘Droplet infection’ is the main way these viruses spread. Coronaviruses can be emitted into the air via droplets when someone sneezes, coughs, exhales and then inhaled by another person. ‘Smear infection’ is another way that respiratory tract pathogens can spread. This involves people touching their eyes or nose with contaminated hands, leading to infection via the mucous membrane. There are currently no known cases of humans being infected COVID-19 by other methods .
Currently, there is no evidence or reports of COVID-19 being spread via food. Similarly, there was no evidence of viral transmission through food consumption during previous outbreaks of MERS and SARS . There are also no known reports of other coronavirus infections due to food consumption .
Based on the evidence to date, it is unlikely that transmission of COVID-19 would occur via food. As coronaviruses don’t survive well outside of humans and animals, the overall risk of spread from food products is low . The likelihood is lower for food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures .
Consumers and those that prepare, or handle food are encouraged to continue practicing general everyday hygiene rules to control known food-borne bacteria and viruses. These include:
Those with suspected symptoms of respiratory illness should avoid preparing food for others and seek medical attention.
Coronaviruses are common in a variety of domestic and wild animals, including bats, dogs, cats, horses, cattle, ferrets and others. Some coronaviruses infect animals only, whilst others can be passed from animals to humans (zoonotic). Occasionally, animal coronaviruses that infect animals have emerged to infect people and then be spread from person to person. This is suspected to have occurred for the virus that causes COVID-19, however a specific animal source has not yet been confirmed.
In the last two major coronavirus outbreaks in humans, transmission was traced to intermediate animal hosts: dromedary camels (MERS) and the masked palm civet (SARS) . Horseshoe bats were found to be the primary reservoir for the virus causing SARS. Emission of coronaviruses into the environment from infected animals via breath or excretions is a possible route of transmission.
The Veterinary Services of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region reported that nasal and oral swabs from a dog returned positive for COVID-19, which is believed to have been passed from infected owners to their pet (reverse transmission) . This animal did not display clinical signs of illness. Whilst current information suggests that the COVID-19 virus has an animal source, there have not been any reports of livestock becoming sick with the virus or that they play a significant epidemiological role in this human disease. The predominant route of COVD‑19 transmission appears to be from human to human. Further research is needed to improve understanding of how different animals could be affected by the COVID-19 virus. The World Organisation for Animal Health will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.
In the interim, if you become sick with COVID-19 you should restrict contact with animals, just like you would around other people. Since animals can spread other diseases to people, standard hygienic practices should be followed being around animals. This includes washing hands after touching animals or working in farm and housing environments.
Specific data on survivability of this new type of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) on surfaces is limited. Coronaviruses that infect humans have a relatively low environmental stability on dry surfaces. Their persistence in the environment depends on several factors including temperature, surface type, humidity, viral strain, quantity of the virus. Under dry conditions, coronaviruses are generally inactivated within a few hours to several days.
Whilst droplet infection is the main way COVID-19 is thought to spread, it is possible that transmission could occur through smear infections, when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes. Based on the above knowledge, smear infection is only likely to occur during a short period after surface contamination.
General hygiene rules such as regular hand washing should be followed. Food business employees showing signs of infectious illness should not attend work as per their food safety program and Queensland Health guidelines . Businesses should continue to consistently and correctly clean and disinfect food preparation environments in accordance with their food safety program. The World Health Organisation advises that thoroughly cleaning environmental surfaces with water and detergent and applying commonly used disinfectants (such as sodium hypochlorite) are effective and sufficient procedures .
A recent review published by researchers in Germany stated that other coronavirus types such as MERS and SARS can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days . The researchers concluded that these coronavirus types can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures with 62-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite within 1 minute. As no specific therapies are available for the virus causing COVID-19, early containment and prevention of further spread is the primary management strategy to stop the ongoing outbreak and minimise potential impacts.
Safe Food is continuing to undertake its regulatory activities. However, as a precautionary measure, we have reviewed our Business Continuity Plan to ensure our agency can remain operational should the COVID-19 situation change. We encourage all accredited food businesses to do the same. Now is the time to prepare and consider what contingencies can be put in place to minimise the impact of COVID-19 in your business.
If you are an accredited business with Safe Food and encounter any issues with staff or access to essential services to run your business, please contact us as we may be able to determine who can assist you or provide advice.
The Queensland Government and Australian Government have announced a series of loans and grants for businesses that may be impacted by COVID-19. For more information, please contact the relevant government department listed below.
**The Queensland Government has developed an online tool to help businesses identify what financial support is available to them.**
The Queensland Government has announced a new $500 million loan facility, interest free for the first 12 months, to support Queensland businesses impacted by COVID-19 retain employees and maintain their operations.
The $500 million concessional loan facility will comprise low interest loans of up to $250,000 for carry on finance with an initial 12-month interest free period for businesses to retain staff.
The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) is responsible for the administration of these concessional loans and is currently taking expressions of interest in the lead up to rolling these loans out as soon as possible.
For more information and to register your interest, visit QRIDA.
The Queensland Government is also providing assistance for through the Market Diversification and Resilience Grants (MDRG) program.
The MDRG program will benefit Queensland agriculture, food and fishing exporters and their critical supply chain partners, as well as industry organisations working with exporters to build resilience by diversifying into new markets (international or interstate).
The program has 2 components:
Equipment purchase grants of up to $7,500 (excluding GST) are available to support new equipment purchases up to a maximum cost of $10,000 (excluding GST).
Applicants must contribute 25% of the total cost of the new equipment. The MDRG program will provide the remaining 75% of total costs. For example, if the total equipment cost is $10,000 (excluding GST), the applicant will pay $2,500 and the MDRG program will pay $7,500 (excluding GST).
Examples of eligible equipment purchases include, but are not limited to:
Applications for equipment purchase grants will be assessed on an ongoing basis from Thursday 12 March. Successful applicants will be notified as soon as possible.
Project grants of up to $50,000 (excluding GST) will be available to support project activities including, but not limited to:
Applicants must co-invest 50% of the total cost of their project activities or equipment purchases and should provide evidence of their contributions both in-kind (e.g. reasonable salary costs for key personnel, freight costs) and cash. Cash contributions must be at least 25% of total project costs.
Applications for project grants open Thursday 12 March and close Monday 20 April. Successful applicants will be notified by Friday 1 May.
More information about the Market Diversification and Resilience Grants is available here.
A $27.25 million package has also been announced to provide immediate assistance to help Queensland manage the impacts of the COVID-19.
Read more about the Immediate Industry Recovery Package.
You may be eligible for one or more of a range of payroll tax relief measures as a result of the impacts of COVID-19. These include:
Read more about deferring payroll tax returns due to coronavirus.
A range of assistance is also available from the Australian government to support business investment, assist cash flow, keep employees including apprentices and trainees in jobs, and assist severely affected regions.
The Australian Government has announced a $130 billion JobKeeper payment to help keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the significant economic impact caused by the Coronavirus.
Under the JobKeeper program, businesses will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum of six months. This assistance will help businesses keep staff and assist them in restarting when the crisis is over. Around 6 million workers will benefit from the JobKeeper program.
The subsidy will start on 30 March 2020, with the first payments to be received by employers in the first week of May. Businesses can register their interest in participating in the Payment from 30 March 2020 on the ATO website.
Further information can be found on the Australian Government Treasury website.
This assistance from the Australian Government will support businesses to manage cash flow challenges resulting from the economic impacts of the Coronavirus and help businesses retain their employees. The two measures outlined below are designed to support employing small and medium enterprises and to improve business confidence.
The Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure will provide up to $25,000 back to small and medium-sized businesses, with a minimum payment of $10,000 for eligible businesses. The payment will provide cash flow support to businesses with a turnover of less than $50 million that employ staff. The payment will be tax free. This measure will benefit around 690,000 businesses throughout Australia employing around 7.8 million people. The payment will be available from 28 April 2020.
The Australian Government is supporting small business to retain their apprentices and trainees. Eligible employers can apply for a wage subsidy of 50 per cent of the apprentice’s or trainee’s wage for up to 9 months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. Where a small business is not able to retain an apprentice, the subsidy will be available to a new employer that employs that apprentice. This measure will support up to 70,000 small businesses in Australia, employing around 117,000 apprentices.
The Australian Government has set aside $1 billion to support those regions and communities that have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the Coronavirus, including those heavily reliant on industries such as tourism, agriculture and education. This will include assistance to help businesses identify alternative export markets or supply chains.
Read more about coronavirus business support available from the Australian Government.
Under the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme, the Australian Government will provide a guarantee of 50% to small and medium enterprise (SME) lenders for new unsecured loans to be used for working capital. This will enhance these lenders’ willingness and ability to provide credit, which will result in SMEs being able to access additional funding to help support them through the upcoming months.
SMEs with a turnover of up to $50 million will be eligible to receive these loans.
The Government will provide eligible lenders with a guarantee for loans with the following terms:
Loans will be subject to lenders’ credit assessment processes with the expectation that lenders will look through the cycle to sensibly take into account the uncertainty of the current economic conditions.
As part of the loan products available, the Australian Government will encourage lenders to provide facilities to SMEs that only have to be drawn if needed by the SME. This will mean that the SME will only incur interest on the amount they draw down. If they do not draw down any funds from the facility, no interest will be charged, but they will retain the flexibility to draw down in the future should they need to.
The Scheme will commence by early April 2020 and be available for new loans made by participating lenders until 30 September 2020.
More information about the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme is available here.
The Australian Government has announced that Commonwealth commercial fishers do not have to pay remaining Commonwealth fishing levies for 2020.
This means the levies to be collected by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) under the Fisheries Management Act 1991 or the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 will be waived from 1 April 2020, for the remainder of the year.
More information is available from AMFA.
Safe Food is focused on the health, wellbeing and safety of our staff, accreditation holders, their employees and consumers. We are here to support accredited businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We wish to assure accredited businesses that we are committed to supporting you to maintain good food safety practices. During this rapidly evolving situation, Safe Food will work with you to ensure that our food safety regulatory arrangements continue in ways that minimise risk and disruption.
We have implemented our business continuity plan to ensure our critical food safety functions continue. Some of the changes we have implemented include:
We are also regularly monitoring the COVID-19 situation across Australia and are prepared to manage emerging issues across the food supply chain. Together, we can maintain the reputation of Queensland’s food industry and consumers can remain confident in the safety of the food produced in Queensland.
Safe Food has the technology and capabilities to work remotely and have planning in place to ensure our critical business operations continue, and the expectations of consumers and needs of our accreditation holders are addressed.
New applications for accreditation will continue to be processed and managed by the Assessment Team in line with the current legislation.
Food safety notifications and foodborne illness outbreaks will continue to be actioned and investigated by Safe Food officers.
We acknowledge that there is a high degree of uncertainty around the future impacts of COVID-19 and this has caused some concerns for accreditation holders. Safe Food auditors have received requests from industry to follow specific directives before entering a place to undertake compliance activities. Safe Food has also received requests to delay or forgo food safety audits. While we appreciate and acknowledge these concerns, please be reminded that Safe Food’s approved auditors are not present at accredited businesses as “visitors.” Under the Food Production (Safety) Act 2000 they are there to fullfil the obligations of verifying compliance.
We want to reassure all our accreditation holders that Safe Food staff are following the health-related advice of Queensland Health regarding COVID-19. We are here to support you and to assure domestic consumers and overseas markets that essential food safety compliance services will continue in Queensland during the COVID-19 response.