Irish FSA gives green light to reusables

New food safety guidance in Ireland suggests adopting single-use cups and containers could create a false sense of security among food businesses. By David Burrows.

Could switching from reusable to disposable packaging increase the risk of spreading coronavirus? Updated guidance published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland suggests it’s possible.

The FSAI has said that reliance on single-use cups, containers and cutlery risks a drop in standards in foodservice outlets with staff paying less attention to hygiene.

“Using disposable crockery and cutlery can lead to a false sense of security and can mean staff are not as conscious of hygiene practices when handling these items,” the guidance reads. “It is not necessary to use disposable cups, cutlery or other disposable crockery”.

The guidance is likely to delight campaigners and irritate proponents of single-use packaging in equal measure. “Great news”, tweeted the Conscious Cup Campaign.

In updated advice for food businesses, published on its website, FSAI said it is “up to individual food businesses to decide if they wish to accept reusable cups or containers from customers. The use of these reusable cups and containers is still permitted.”

This followed reports that some cafés had assumed reusable cups, for example, had been banned in light of the covid-19 pandemic. Some major chains introduced their own bans but there has been no government-backed ban either in Ireland or the UK.

Industry-led bans were based on the assumption that single-use containers were the safest option – Starbucks put the decision down to “an abundance of caution”.

The caution during the initial coronavirus outbreak was understandable. However, scientists and campaigners have since challenged this and adoption of reusable cups, in particular, is growing again. Indeed, the likes of Starbucks and Costa have begun accepting reusable cups again. Costa moved first, back in July, with Starbucks following last week. Other chains are still relying on single-use however.

Both the Food Standards Agency in England and Food Standards Scotland have also left it up to businesses to decide whether or not to accept reusable containers and cups. Procedures should “minimise” contact between staff and customer equipment, according to the FSA.

Those accepting reusable cups have by and large opted for a contactless solution – Starbucks for example carries the customer’s cup in another mug.

In an email, FSS explained: “The current evidence indicates that it’s very unlikely that covid-19 is transmitted through food and food contact surfaces. However it is critical to follow good hygiene practice, ensuring that crockery and eating utensils are not shared, and that re-usable items are subject to cleaning and disinfection using methods that are known to be effective in controlling microbiological hazards.”

FSAI also advised businesses not to accept dirty of chipped containers.

“Washing crockery and cutlery in the dishwasher will kill any virus present,” the guidance noted.

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