Voluntary preparing of meals for the community

Mole Valley and Tandridge District Councils Shared Food Safety Service understands that some community organisations and voluntary groups, may wish to provide meals, and food packs to the community during these times. We want to support you and so have put together some guidance to keep you and your customers safe.  

This guidance provides food safety information and guidance for individuals or groups wishing to prepare meals at home for their community. This can include preparing or donating meals for: 

  • community groups and local organisations 

  • NHS staff. 

Current scientific advice is that it is very unlikely that Coronavirus can be spread through food, but Government requirements are for restaurants, pubs and similar non-essential food businesses to be closed, in order to achieve the necessary social distancing to delay the spread of Coronavirus. Further information on these Government requirements is available here

Food provided for community groups must comply with food law and be safe to eat. 

You do not need a food hygiene certificate to provide food for charity or community groups. However, you need to make sure that you handle food safely. 


If you handle, prepare, store and serve food occasionally and on a small scale, you do not need to register as a food business. 

If you are providing food on a regular and organised basis, or are setting up a food bank, you may need to register please contact the Environmental Health Teams details below, who will be able to advise you. 

Existing food banks should already be registered with their local authority and have actions in place to minimise the risks to users. 

Food hygiene when cooking for your community or donating food 

If you are donating or preparing food, it is important to make sure that those who receive the food know what is in it and how to prepare it. This is so it doesn’t present a risk of making them ill. 

Donating prepacked food products will make sure that the foods are properly labelled with instructions such as use-by datesallergen information and storage guidelines. 

If you are preparing meals, the four main things to remember for good hygiene are the 4Cs: cleaningcookingchilling  and avoiding cross-contamination

It’s very important to store food properly to keep it safe. Storing food in sealed containers and at the correct temperature protects it from harmful bacteria, stops objects falling into it, and avoids cross-contamination with other ingredients. 

Here are some practical tips for when you're making food for large numbers of people:  

  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water 

  • always wash fresh fruit and vegetables before cooking or consumption 

  • keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate 

  • do not use food past its use-by date 

  • always follow cooking instructions 

  • make sure food is properly cooked before you serve it  

  • ensure that food preparation areas are suitably cleaned and sanitised after use, and wash any equipment you are using in hot soapy water  

  • ensure frozen food is safely defrosted  in a fridge before you use it 

  • keep food out of the fridge for the shortest time possible. 

Food temperature 

Food that needs to be chilled at 8◦c or below, such as sandwiches should be left out of the fridge for the minimum possible time, and never for more than four hours. 

After this time, any remaining food should be thrown away or put back in the fridge. If you put the food back in the fridge, don't let it stand around at room temperature when you serve it again. It should be eaten as soon as possible. 

Allergen guidance when cooking for your community or donating food 

We recommend that you provide details of the relevant 14 allergens  as best practice. This will allow people with food allergies to make safe food choices. 

As best practice, anyone making or donating foods for a food bank should label it appropriately, saying what the item is, the date it was produced, and include details of any allergens so that individuals with food hypersensitivities can avoid it.  

More allergen information can be found at the Food Standards Agency Website: https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/allergen-guidance-for-food-businesses 

If you know the people that you are cooking for, ask about any allergy requirements they may have before preparing their meals. 

If you are cooking for a community group, you can provide allergen information by labelling food containers or providing a note for each meal. 

Cooking for someone with a food allergy or intolerance can be worrying if you’re not used to doing it. You can plan a safe meal by: 

  • asking what they can and can’t eat 

  • making sure you keep allergens separate from other foods to avoid cross-contamination 

  • double-checking the ingredients lists on prepacked foods for allergen information 

  • checking the ingredients with the person who provided the food, if it was donated 

  • avoiding adding toppings or garnishes to dishes which might otherwise appear allergen-free 

  • cleaning work surfaces and equipment thoroughly to remove traces of anything you might have cooked before. 

There are often good substitutes available for ingredients that someone may need to avoid. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and suggestions for ingredients from those with a food allergy that you are cooking for. 

Food that needs extra care 

Some foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others. These include: 

  • raw milk, raw shellfish, soft cheeses, pâté, foods containing raw egg and cooked sliced meats. 

If you plan to serve any of these foods, consult the Foods which need extra care  section in our Safer food, better business  guidance. 

Meal containers 

If you wish to provide food in containers, it is important to select appropriate food grade packaging. This is packaging intended for multiple uses, such as Tupperware or takeaway boxes. This will make sure that the transported food is safe and its quality is maintained. For example, packaging materials may be required to be liquid repellent to prevent leaks, or to stop paper becoming soaked through. Without this type of packaging, chemical contaminants or germs could transfer onto the food. Well-fitting lids will also minimise any hygiene or spillage risks.  

It is safe to re-use glass and plastic containers, as long as they are free from chips and cracks. Make sure containers are thoroughly cleaned to prevent cross-contamination with germs, allergens and physical contaminants. If they are dishwasher safe, a dishwasher is preferable for cleaning due to the high temperature it reaches. Containers should be washed thoroughly in hot, soapy water if a dishwasher is unavailable. 

Delivering meals 

All food must be delivered in a way that ensures that it does not become unsafe or unfit to eat.  

Food that needs refrigerating must be kept cool while being transported. This may need to be packed in an insulated box with a coolant gel or in a cool bag. Equally, food that needs to be kept hot should be packed in an insulated bag. 

You should also avoid possible cross-contamination risks in the delivery process. This can be done through packaging meals securely and storing allergen-free meals separately in transit, to avoid contamination through any spillages. 

If an allergen-free meal has been requested, it should be clear when delivered which container it is in. You can use stickers or a note on the container to label each meal.  

For further information on safe delivery please refer to: 


Infection Control 

Food Business Operators have responsibilities to ensure food handlers are fit for work under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 and in addition, a general duty is set down in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, to ensure the Health, Safety and Welfare of persons in their employment, as well as members of the public.  

Relevant staff must be provided with clear instructions on any infection control policy in place and any person so affected and/or employed in a food business and/or who is likely to come into contact with food is to report immediately the illness or symptoms, and if possible their causes, to the Food Business Operator. Remember that maintaining a 2-metre distance between people must also apply in your kitchen to keep your staff safe. The Government has issued guidance on COVID-19 for employees and businesses, which is available at:  


Further Information  

Further information on preparing foods for the community can be found at: 


If you require further information or support in relation to this and/or any other matter concerning the safe running of your Food Business Operation, please do not hesitate to get in touch using the following contact details: -    

Commercial Team at Mole Valley Valley District Council: Email: Env.Health@molevalley.gov.uk; Telephone number: 01306 885001 

Commercial Team at Tandridge District Council: Email: eh@tandridge.gov.uk; Telephone number: 01883 722000