Frequently Asked Questions
Business Continuity Planning
Updated: 1 May 2020
Australia is actively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread from person-to-person contact and through direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person (e.g. when they cough or sneeze).
There is no evidence to date to suggest that food is a source or route of transmission of the virus. It is also highly unlikely that a person can contract COVID-19 from food or packaging.
There is no reason to avoid certain foods or specific cuisine as a result of COVID-19.
Good hygiene is important in helping protect yourself against infection and stop the virus from spreading. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Practice social distancing by staying at least 1.5 metres away from others as much as possible.
All food businesses in Queensland are required to meet the requirements of the Food Standards Code. Workers are advised to follow health advice and stay home if you are sick.
Good personal hygiene and food safety practices should always be employed. Good hygiene and sanitation are important to avoid cross contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready to eat foods in the kitchen.
Food businesses are encouraged to consider what contingencies can be put in place to reduce workforce impacts caused by COVID-19. The following resources have been developed to assist food businesses:
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.
Safe Food is continuing to undertake its regulatory activities in accordance with the latest health advice from Queensland Health. The production of food is considered an essential service by the Queensland Government and maintaining confidence and oversight of food safety in the food supply chain is critical at this time. We are prioritising audits and assessments for accredited businesses based on their level of risk and prior food safety compliance.
Safe Food is also actively engaged in the Queensland Government’s Agricultural Coordination Group, which consists of key food regulatory agencies and industry associations, to ensure an open dialogue between industry and government during this time.
We also continue to provide up-to-date advice here on our website about business continuity planning and financial assistance available to food businesses from the Queensland Government and Australian Government.
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.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new form of coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread from person-to person contact and through direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person (e.g. when they cough or sneeze).
Current advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Department of Health, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand is that COVID-19 is not known to be transmitted by food. It is highly unlikely that a person can contract COVID-19 from food or packaging.
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 SARS-CoV-2 originated in animals, there have not been any reports of livestock becoming sick or playing a significant role in the spread of 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 and reducing exposure of staff to COVID-19.
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 normally used cleaning agents (e.g. sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, and 70% ethanol) is sufficient. No change in concentration or exposure times is needed. Whilst coronavirus is destroyed by hot water (e.g. by dishwashers operating above 60°C ), use of hot water for general cleaning and sanitising of surfaces and equipment may pose unnecessary workplace health and safety risks and is therefore not recommended given the above alternatives.
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. The employee will be advised by their health care provider as to when they are no longer infections and can come out of isolation.
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 that causes this disease is being discovered every day. The way in which other coronaviruses spread is well known, however.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and respiratory droplets from an infected person provide the primary route for transmission of the virus .
‘Droplet infection’ via close contact with an infected person is the main way the virus spreads . This occurs when the virus is emitted into the air via droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, exhales and the virus-carrying respiratory droplets are 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 with COVID-19 by other methods .
Although COVID-19 genetic material (RNA) has been isolated from stool samples of infected patients, to date there are no reports or any evidence of faecal-oral transmission. Handwashing after using the toilet is always an essential practice especially when working with food .
At the present time, 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 or respiratory virus infections due to food consumption or contact with food packaging . Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food; they .
Based on the evidence to date, it is unlikely that transmission of COVID-19 would occur via food. As coronaviruses need an animal or human host to multiply and don’t survive well outside of these hosts, 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 .
Whilst it is suspected COVID-19 may have originated in animals, it is not likely to be transmitted to humans from meat in Australia. In Australia all meat sold is subject to strict controls, including requirements that prohibit the use of meat and offal from diseased animals for human consumption. As such, it is unlikely that extra precautions need to be taken for meat in Australia to prevent COVID-19 transmission .
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:
Use of soap, disinfectants or detergents to wash food is not recommended. These cleaning products are not designed for human consumption and may be unsafe to use with food.
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 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19. Genetic analyses indicate that SARS-CoV-2 is a close relative of other coronaviruses found circulating in Rhinolophus bat (Horseshoe Bat) populations. However, to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify the source of the COVID-19 virus or to explain the original route of transmission to humans (which may have involved an intermediate host) .
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.
Several dogs and cats (domestic cats and a tiger) have tested positive to COVID-19 virus following close contact with infected humans. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has made these clinical cases available. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19 .
Studies are underway to better understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the COVID-19 virus and to assess infection dynamics in susceptible animal species, with some studies on cats, dogs, ferrets and fruit bats already completed (see OIE). To date, preliminary findings from studies suggest that poultry and pigs, are not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection . Further studies on larger livestock animals (e.g. cattle) are yet to be conducted.
The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission. 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 survival 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.
Very little is known about how the SARS-CoV-2 virus survives outside the human body. Probably the most up-to-date summary of scientific information we have on survival in the environment is from the European Centre for Disease control (ECDC) and the following is a brief summary based on an extract from their recent technical report :
Recent publications have evaluated the survival of SARS-CoV-2 on different surfaces. According to van Doremalen et al., the environmental stability of SARS-CoV-2 is up to three hours in the air post-aerosolisation, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel, albeit with significantly decreased titres. These findings resulted from experiments in a controlled environment and should be interpreted with caution in the real-life environment. Studies show that viral particles are detectable on hospital surfaces in dedicated COVID wards, where the viral load was likely to be high on patient interface surfaces. The virus was detected most commonly on gloves and the studies indicating that fomites likely act as a possible route of transmission however the relative importance of fomites versus direct exposure to respiratory droplets is still unclear.
To minimise the likelihood of transmission by smear infection, general hygiene rules such as regular hand washing, and thorough drying of hands 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 sanitise food preparation environments in accordance with their food safety program. The World Health Organisation and International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) advise that thoroughly cleaning environmental surfaces with water and detergent and applying commonly used sanitisers and disinfectants are effective and sufficient procedures .
Alcohol based sanitisers/surface disinfectants should be used for cleaning purposes. In general, alcohol-based disinfectants (ethanol, propan-2-ol, propan-1-ol) have been shown to significantly reduce infectivity of enveloped viruses like COVID-19 virus, in concentrations of 70-80% with one-minute exposure time. Common disinfectants with active ingredients based on quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) and chlorine would also have virucidal properties .
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 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite within 1 minute.
Staff engaged in environmental cleaning should wear PPE when performing cleaning activities, such as overalls or uniform, single-use plastic apron, gloves and a face mask. Protective clothing (e.g. uniforms, overalls, etc.) should be frequently washed at 60°C or above .
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.
The best approach for all food businesses is to continue to reduce exposure of staff to COVID-19 and adhere to industry best practice for safe food production.
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 $1 billion loan facility, interest free for the first 12 months, to support Queensland businesses impacted by COVID-19 retain employees and maintain their operations.
The $1 billion concessional loan facility will comprise low interest loans of up to $250,000 for carry on finance, with no repayments or interest charged for the first year, for businesses to retain staff.
The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) is responsible for the administration of these concessional loans.
Update: Applications are now closed and are being processed. For more information, visit QRIDA.
The objective of this program is to support small businesses subject to closure or highly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown restrictions, to adapt and sustain their operations, and build resilience.
The program aims to see small and micro businesses:
The available grant amount is up to a maximum of $10,000 per eligible small or micro business.
For more information and to apply for this grant, please visit the Business Queensland website.
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.
UPDATE: Round 1 of the Market Diversification and Resilience Grant (MDRG) program has closed. The program will be evaluated after the completion of Round 1.
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.
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 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.