If you’re in a hurricane zone or have been experiencing an increase in extreme weather conditions in recent years, you’ve likely been making changes to your food safety and business continuity plans. Installing rooftop solar panels may help – in a number of ways. While the panels are more often associated with homes, they can provide businesses with extra risk protection and cost savings in case of power outages. And at a time when people are more concerned with their environmental impact, the use of renewable energy is a powerful way to share those values with guests.
As plant-based proteins flood restaurant menus of all types, food safety practices around these foods may be lagging – all at a time when consumers have greater expectations for food safety overall. The nutrition company Kerry said because of the wide range of materials used in plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, plant-based proteins may be susceptible to microbial spoilage: “Like their meat-based counterparts, they are near neutral in pH, high in protein and moisture content so it is imperative that appropriate microbiological control mechanisms are put in place,” the company said. Does your operation have new procedures and training in place for protecting the safety of the new plant-based proteins you are bringing into your business?
Leafy greens and other vegetable row crops are a key source of E. coli infections. Indoor agriculture is on the rise – and it could provide restaurants with a means of minimizing the risk of foodborne illness and use of pesticides, while ensuring that the greens and other produce they want to serve is available to them year-round. Since indoor farming environments differ from conventional ones, there’s a new food safety certification program specifically for leafy greens grown via controlled-environment agriculture (CEA). The CEA Food Safety Coalition says the annual certification, which involves such factors as a hazard analysis, a review of a facility’s growing infrastructure and design, and an assessment of any pesticide use, can help educate regulators and consumers about the benefits of growing crops in controlled environments.
As restaurants welcome guests back into their dining rooms, operators are likely to have to stretch to accommodate the demand, making it easier for safety to fall through the cracks. Using digital checklists can help you uphold your safety standards and avoid a pile-up of risks throughout a shift. If your servers are using tablets to take orders, add a digital food safety app that provides a quick, easy-to-reference rundown of the cleaning and sanitation tasks that need to be done between guests – such as wiping down tables, chairs and any tabletop items.
Covid-era changes to restaurant dining can make it easy to overlook the many other aspects of food safety that a restaurant team must remember. Can you tap into tech to help your staff avoid information overload? Food Safety News suggests incorporating such measures as electronic checklists to prompt staff about procedures and instructions, automated prompts to help them avoid keeping food sitting out for too long, or alerts about issues that could become problems if not addressed quickly – like rising temperatures in a cooler. Finally, digitize any remaining paper-and-pencil processes in your business, like compliance checklists or records.
As restaurant dining rooms reopen and the weather beckons people outdoors, operators may find themselves in the awkward position of wanting to welcome people looking to gather and celebrate, while also accommodating the safety concerns of guests, staff and inspectors alike. Establish a clear protocol for how your team is balancing these concerns – and share it on your website, social media and in your booking confirmations to help inform guests before they join you. Finally, empower your staff to gently reinforce your safety protocols as guests arrive – and as needed once they’re dining – since they may still be getting used to the new rules of dining out too.
Throughout the pandemic, a major barrier to the reopening of restaurants has been the air quality of indoor spaces – and how operators can ensure their dining rooms are safe. As restaurant operators reopen their indoor dining rooms, many are investing in systems and products that promote air filtration and ventilation as the pandemic winds down – and for protection down the line. The investment can be substantial but also a major selling point for guests concerned about safety. If you’re considering anything ranging from small tabletop air purifiers to HVAC system updates, consult with someone who can assess how air moves around your facility – including the locations and spacing of vents and air filters, as some purifiers inadvertently increase the spread of aerosols if spaced incorrectly. Also consider the noise of any new units you install – they shouldn’t require guests to speak more loudly to be heard, and again, spread more aerosols. Finally, have a means of measuring air quality in your restaurant and understand how the number and locations of guests, and your efforts to change ventilation and filtration, can impact your air
There’s nothing like a cool drink on a warm day. Just make sure your team is handling ice as safely as possible day to day, as your ice machine can be a haven for bacteria and viruses. Have employees wash hands before scooping ice from the bin. Store the scoop outside of the machine and consider it the only tool used to scoop ice – don’t use glassware, which could chip and cause a safety hazard or contaminate ice in the machine. Sanitize your scoop in your dishwasher. Finally, keep your ice machine door closed securely when not in use.
You are likely hiring more staff as we emerge from the pandemic – and you may feel that having vaccinated employees may make patrons more comfortable about dining with you. So can you require vaccination of new hires? In general, yes, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For example, as a recent Q&A from the National Law Review indicates, an employer can ask if a candidate has been vaccinated and require proof of that vaccination. What could pose difficulty under the Americans with Disabilities act is asking an unvaccinated person why he or she hasn’t been vaccinated, which could elicit information about a disability. https://www.natlawreview.com/article/eeoc-says-employers-may-mandate-covid-19-vaccinations-subject-to-limitations
The past year has sharpened our focus on the spread of viruses. As we come through the pandemic, take care to maintain simple practices that go far in preventing the spread of bacteria. According to the CDC, bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods causes about 30 percent of restaurant foodborne illness outbreaks each year. Beyond all-important frequent handwashing, StatefoodSafety.com advises using gloves, deli tissue or tongs to provide a barrier between hands and ready-to-eat foods, and carrying plates, glasses and utensils in a way that avoids the touching of eating or drinking surfaces.