Whilst food and drinks can still be served legally, it is strongly recommended that congregations suspend the practice until the country is placed on a more even footing by the Scottish Government in the days beyond Omicron. If congregations determine it is absolutely essential to serve food or drinks then they need to pay close attention to the advice offered by the Scottish Government. This includes:
- Queue management – Many premises are already familiar with managing queues, either at doors or within premises. Consider whether current arrangements can be expanded or new arrangements introduced to manage pinch points, such as at bar areas, so that customers have adequate space to queue apart from one another i.e. 1 metre, and crowding does not occur.
- Ordering systems – Consider whether adaptations to existing ordering systems, such as via apps or at designated queue-managed ordering points, can reduce interactions within premises
- One-way systems – Consider, where practical, whether introducing, or reintroducing, a one-way system will reduce the pressure on pinch points within premises
- Table service – Where not already the practice, consider whether reverting to table service is practical. This is an effective way to reduce opportunities for crowding and may also meet with customer preference in the current context of the pandemic.
- Use of screens – Consider whether the use of screens between tables and or at service points can add to enhanced risk-management measures
- Capacity management – Linked to queue management, consider whether busy times can be made safer by reassessing how customer flow through the premises is managed i.e. is there merit in ticketing peak festive opening, which may also help with stock management.
It is a legal requirement that all hospitality settings keep a record of those who have attended as part of the NHS Test and Protect programme. Whether a meal is served or a cup of coffee after worship it is vital that congregations follow this process. More information can be found in the Test and Protect section .
The Scottish Government recommend that table service should be the normal and that people should not be standing around with their drinks.
It is important that congregations do not allow ‘shared' items of food or condiments to be used. This may mean considering how milk and sugar is provided (for example, individual portions whilst considering environmental impacts, or the person serving pouring the milk into the cup). Individuals should not ‘pick' a biscuit from a plate and instead they should be served a biscuit. Those preparing and serving should be kept to a minimum and should wear face coverings and observe good hand hygiene throughout the service.
At this time it is strongly recommended that congregations cease the practice of allowing home baking to be provided, even if the Kirk Session or Congregational Board is satisfied that the risks associated with home baking and the transmission of COVID-19 can be adequately controlled.
In preparation of this being possible once again, congregations are reminded that everyone who bakes at home on behalf of their congregation must be provided with suitable training in food safety and hygiene. The General Trustees are offering free access to the REHIS Introduction to Food Hygiene course by e-learning and congregations are encouraged to enrol home bakers on this course. Further information can be obtained by emailing the General Trustees.
As congregations begin to think again of events where food is served in order to reconnect with congregation and community, they should also note that the Scottish Government has published new legislation relating to food allergens and the labelling of prepacked foods. This legislation came into effect on 1 October 2021.
The majority of Church of Scotland congregations are unlikely to be affected by this change in legislation; however, there are a number of congregations who operate commercial food businesses or offer prepack food items (such as a Cake and Candy Stall) which may be affected. The new legislation will require food businesses in Scotland to include the product name and a full list of ingredients (including allergens) on food items sold prepacked for direct sale (PPDS). This applies to food that is prepacked in advance, mainly at the same place where it's sold before being offered to consumers. For example, if your congregation makes sandwiches or filled rolls and packages these up before placing in a chilled display cabinet for consumer to pick their own sandwiches, then this new legislation will apply. However, if you are displaying or offering cakes and biscuits for sale at a coffee morning and the consumer picks their own products and asks the server to place them in packaging, then the new legislation would not apply.
It is important to note that all food offered by a congregation, whether for consumption within the church building or for taking away, must comply fully with the standard regulations on allergens within foodstuffs. It is good practice that information relating to food allergens will be displayed, and if someone asks for additional information then this should be readily available.
Full details regarding the new legislation can be found by visiting the Food Standards Scotland website and congregations may find the resources from Food Standards Scotland on Allergens useful as activities resume.
Congregations may find it helpful to familiarise themselves with the Scottish Government's guidance for the hospitality sector to ensure they are meeting the relevant requirements. Congregations should also refer to the Food Standards Scotland guidance on COVID and food businesses.