The New Look to School Meals
Primary School Catering Under Social Distancing Measures
With the government recently announcing the possible reopening of schools from 1 June 2020, we are expecting school meals will be back on the menu soon. Schools have been asked to start planning for a phased opening if the government’s 5 key tests are met. Whilst initially only pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 will return, the expectation is that all primary pupils will return to school before the Summer holidays.
At CMC, we are supporting and advising schools throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have already been considering how schools might best manage their catering and service delivery areas to comply with social distancing measures.
According to the government’s current directives, a meal made at school is seen as the best option for feeding pupils on their return. Schools are being asked to provide meals for all pupils and are, therefore, expected to reopen their kitchens, whilst ensuring that meals can be prepared and served safely. The government would also prefer food parcels to be given to those pupils who receive free school meals if they are not in school, with vouchers seen as a last resort.
At CMC, we recognise that no two schools are the same. All schools will have a variety of different issues to consider depending on, for example, school roll numbers, the size of kitchen and dining facilities, and the staff available to prepare and serve the food. The safety of pupils and staff and adherence to social distancing rules must be prioritised when making decisions regarding lunchtime provisions.
We recognise that the traditional lunch period is a potentially high-risk time and pupils may be restricted to staying within their classrooms to ensure their safety. Dining areas may initially be no-go areas which are only used again when the reintegration of pupils into school progresses and some lunchtime normality might be possible.
All these factors, e.g. the size of the kitchen and prioritising staff and pupil safety, will need to be considered before a school can decide what they will offer for lunch and the safest way to offer it.
Assessing the Risks
At CMC, we always recommend that the first step in any new catering practice is to assess the risks. Your school will need to consult with your catering manager or external catering provider and carry out a risk assessment to determine any areas for concern and potential control measures.
We advise that a risk assessment on the potential spread of coronavirus in both the kitchen and the dining room should be completed before the school reopens. This would then form the basis of the decision-making process for what style of lunch service could safely be provided for both pupils and catering staff. Catering teams should be involved in the creation of the risk assessment and any additional training needs should be identified and actioned before the production of school meals resumes.
With space at a premium in many schools, the ability to ensure social distancing measures are followed in the dining area could mean that lunch has to be staggered over a longer period of time, to allow for individual year groups or classes to eat separately. Inevitably, this will have an impact on the kitchen staff to produce food that can be safely held at the correct temperature over longer service periods. Cooking food in batches for staggered lunches may also impact on production time.
We also need to consider what food can be prepared safely, as kitchen staff will also have to comply with the 2 metre social distancing rule in the kitchen – this may mean compromising workspaces used for food preparation. In order to adhere to the 2 metre ruling, kitchens may have to operate with fewer staff at any one time. A simple menu, which allows safety and ease of preparation, together with minimal contact delivery between catering staff and pupils, and restricted surface contact from pupils would have to be the preferred option.
Some schools may opt to serve only sandwiches upon their return, this would enable class groups to remain within their classroom and minimise food handling – potentially decreasing the risk of infection spreading, as packaging can be immediately disposed of after use, and there would be no need for crockery and cutlery to be rehandled by staff to wash them. Starting with this very simple option could help to lay the foundations for safely developing the service once pupils and staff have become familiar with operating under social distancing measures.
Whatever menu your school decides to implement, you should aim to follow the advice of School Food Standards on both nutrition and preparation.
If schools decide that they can safely operate their lunch service within the main dining hall, a family-style service could be an option for the delivery of meals. This is a style of food service where pupils are sat at tables and the food is brought to them by someone from the catering team or a member of staff collects it from the kitchen area. Tables can be laid with individual sets of cutlery and drinks prior to pupils arriving in the dining room and pupils should be asked to leave their used plates and cutlery on the table when they leave.
By using a family-style service, schools can minimise pupils mixing with each other and with the school catering team.
Whatever lunch menu your school decides to offer and however you choose to deliver it, Food Safety Regulations will need to be followed. In April 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published ‘COVID-19 and Food Safety: Guidance for Food businesses’ outlining their interim measures for ensuring that the ‘integrity of the food chain is maintained’. The WHO strongly advise that food businesses must have robust food safety management systems in place to manage risks and prevent food contamination.
Your catering staff will need to be even more vigilant with personal hygiene and cleaning measures. We would recommend that staff should increase the frequency of cleaning procedures, pausing production throughout the day to wipe down work surfaces with disinfectant or sanitiser. Adhering to their food safety training will be vital over the coming months to ensure a safe dining experience for everyone in your school.
If you would like further advice on how to manage your service operation during social distancing or food safety management, visit CMC’s website here, or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.