Hygiene concerns raised by takeaway rule change during COVID-19

Measures to make it easier for food businesses to operate as takeaways during the COVID-19 pandemic have created problems with food hygiene, scientists say.

Researchers have analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on the hot food takeout industry in the North East of England. The findings were published in the journal Perspectives in Public Health.

In March 2020, the government introduced a temporary law allowing pubs and restaurants to trade as takeout without applying for a planning permit. However, it was necessary to notify local authorities of the start and end dates of the change.

Researchers have found that most companies have not communicated their adoption of new regulations to local councils, and there appears to be no formal and consistent procedure.

Relaxed measures have impacted hygiene, food waste and capacity as local governments struggled to identify businesses operating takeout services.

Lack of Awareness and Addressing the Backlog
From January to March 2021, focus groups and interviews were conducted with 15 experts from seven municipalities in the Northeast. A research team from Teesside University worked with public health experts, environmental health officers and planners across the region to investigate public health issues related to temporary legislation.

They found that while most businesses do not notify local authorities that they are trading as takeout, it is considered a low priority due to the situation.

Food hygiene was identified as an issue because there was so much going on that authorities weren’t aware, and some companies were diversifying without the necessary skills. Getting the necessary insurance for food delivery was another potential issue.

Experts were concerned about regulating public health and the massive backlog of hot food take-out providers that may have been in operation for over a year.

Along with the new regulations, the take-out trade from home kitchens has increased. There were concerns about the post-regulatory situation and backlog of food hygiene inspections about who would be responsible for restaurants to stop additional transactions as takeout.

Researchers found high levels of anxiety among Northeast professionals due to uncertainty about the number of hot food outlets operating as takeout and ongoing capacity issues.

Amelia Lake of Teesside University, who led the study, said: “The pandemic has created unprecedented demand for take-out food, and changes in legislation have made it much easier for businesses to diversify and trade in a variety of circumstances. It’s clear what happened.

“We have been looking at the long-term effects of these changes and how they have affected public health. This suggests that moving to take-home options is not without risk and may have long-term public health consequences.”

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