The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States has already had a substantial impact on food service businesses everywhere. While there is currently no evidence that the virus can be contracted through food, there is still an increased demand for proper food handling protocol, and transparency to guests. If your restaurant remains open, here are some tips for operating with food safety and cleanliness in mind during these difficult times.
Of utmost importance is hand washing. The CDC recommends washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is important for managers to model this behavior and monitor it in employees. Ensure they are consistently washing at all times recommended by the food code, such as after using the restroom, upon entering the kitchen, when switching food preparation tasks, after handling trash or money, etc. Hand sanitizer should be used as an added step instead of in place of hand washing. Hanging informational posters to remind employees of this and other important recommendations can help.
A clear policy needs to mandate employees to stay home if they are sick, even with mild symptoms. For healthy individuals it is recommended keeping a distance of at least 6 feet, and minimize contact with others avoiding long interactions. Transmission has been observed even when a person was not experiencing symptoms. This obviously could have an impact on your operation, so it is important make a plan.
Cleaning vs. Sanitizing
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting aren’t interchangeable. Cleaning is the removal of visible dirt and grime via soap, or other detergent, and water. Sanitizing, which is what is recommended for food contact surfaces, reduces levels of microorganisms to a safe number. It also ensures excessive chemical residue is not left behind, which would also be unsafe. Sanitizing makes use of bleach or other chemical solutions, and should only be done after cleaning. Finally, disinfecting is the practice recommended to kill bacteria and viruses found in bodily fluids. At this time the CDC has released Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations for any frequently touched areas, as the virus can live for hours, or even days on surfaces. These procedures can and should be used on frequently touched areas such as door handles, tables, light switches, and sink faucets.