Contactless ordering and payment have been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic – and to be sure, they are safeguards guests appreciate. But there are many other touchpoints in your facility that concern consumers right now. Trace the path of a typical guest in your restaurant – are there touchpoints you can remove or other safeguards you can apply to make them more sanitary? Do guests have to touch parts of your trash bins – both those in restrooms and others placed in or around your dining rooms – to discard waste? Do they have to hand over a table marker to claim their order? When they visit a restroom, do they have to use an air dryer that can spread contaminants through the space? If possible, place contactless paper towel dispensers in restrooms and near bins or compactors. Help limit the need to touch dispensers and door handles throughout your facility – or make it possible for people to sanitize their hands afterwards.
As helpful as cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in your restaurant can be, protecting your guests from COVID-19 is largely about safeguarding the air they breathe – by maintaining physical distance between your staff and guests and between guests themselves, and taking steps to purify the air flowing through your facility. In December, the National Restaurant Association updated its pandemic operating guidance to include recommendations for HVAC maintenance, the use of portable air purifiers, and the best way to protect the safety of staff changing air filters, among other recommendations. Review the new guidance here (https://bit.ly/38CbrqU).
As operators weather what is likely going to be a difficult winter, many of those fortunate enough to have outdoor spaces have taken steps to outfit them with heated pods, screens and other partitions aimed at containing the spread of the virus while also allowing the safe (and more comfortable) serving of guests as the temperature drops. But according to medical experts, these spaces can be as risky as indoor settings if operators don’t take sufficient precautions. To minimize the spread of infection in the next couple of months, be sure to air out individual dining pods between guests, or in case you have a partially enclosed space for dining outdoors, ensure that air is able to circulate throughout it. Outdoor space heaters and fireplaces can help beat the chill without posing additional safety risks, and you can also encourage guests to bring their own blankets to keep warm during their meal.
As we have come to rely on takeout restaurant food over dine-in meals in recent months, the safety of food packaging has been put under a magnifying glass. Beyond the packaging’s ability to keep food at the proper temperature and protect it from tampering, it must also be made from materials that don’t have an adverse impact on the safety of the food it carries. Recently, several states including Washington, Maine and New York have introduced bans on packaging containing PFAS chemicals, which are commonly found in food packaging and are potentially carcinogenic. As packaging improves to help operators manage increases in off-premise dining, consider the safety of its ingredients – along with its ability to keep a meal warm and secure en route to a customer.
As we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed to more people across the country, we must still manage what could be an especially challenging winter for restaurants. Ongoing cases of COVID-19, on top of normal seasonal concerns like the flu, will make restaurant health and safety practices take on extra importance right now. Make your commitment to safety clear on everything from your front door to your website. Persist with mask wearing indoors and when delivering food (whether through in-house staff or a vendor), enforce social distancing in your dining areas and kitchen, and regularly ensure your facility is well ventilated, air is purified and high-touch surfaces are cleaned. It will help you earn trust from customers, and at a minimum, could help you minimize winter-illness absences on your team.
Increasingly, consumers care about the precautions businesses are taking to protect the safety of their food en route to the businesses selling it to them. The software and engineering firm Emerson recently surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers about food safety practices – and what they expect to see from suppliers. More than 50 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to shop at stores that aren’t using (or requiring suppliers to use) the latest technology to keep food safe. Half of respondents said they are now more concerned about the safety of their food than they were before the pandemic. Nearly 60 percent said the pandemic has made them want to support local businesses. When you promote food safety to guests, look beyond your operation. Trace the path of your menu items and try to shorten that path where possible. Share the tech products and practices that help keep their food fresh and safe between its source and their dinner table.
The CDC and the EPA have been recommending the use of disinfectant during the course of the pandemic, since disinfectant is a bit more effective in killing viral pathogens (particularly COVID-19) than sanitizer. However, more is not better in this case – so if you’re using disinfectant, ensure your staff apply it to surfaces properly and safely. Disinfectant should be used on high-touch surfaces like door handles but is not safe for food contact surfaces. Cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces regularly is sufficient to keep those areas clean and safe.
Masks will be with us for a while longer and they are critical to keep the spread of COVID-19 in check this winter. Make sure your employees know how to place, remove and care for their mask in a way that minimizes the risk for contamination. They should wash hands before and after putting on a mask, adjusting it or removing it – and only handle a mask by its loops or ties in order to avoid touching their mouth, nose and eyes. The mask should fit snugly against the face, covering the nose, mouth and chin. Throw away disposable masks or launder cloth ones after use and don’t ever share masks with others. Need help sourcing masks and other PPE? Team Four can help with that, we have an on-line store at https://www.promoplace.com/1000376/Preview
This has been a year when restaurants have had to do more with less – and it’s understandable if overdue maintenance and repairs have had to take a backseat to other concerns. But the colder weather means that your restaurant could quickly become a warm haven for pests (and a problem for business) if you don’t take precautions to discourage them from entering and multiplying. Be alert to potential signs of a problem – such as gnaw marks or feces – and have an exterminator in as soon as possible if you discover them. Seal off cracks and crevices around and inside your facility and regularly check hidden areas where pests might lurk, such as around pipes and under or around appliances.
This year has provided a stark wake-up call about the importance of protecting the safety of our food. Up-and-coming technology called hyperspectral imaging, which can detect pathogens in food, optimize the uniformity of a product’s quality and even help with precision agriculture, has been gaining ground rapidly in the food safety industry this year. In the coming months, it’s an additional feature to watch for and discuss with food suppliers and distributors, particularly as more foodservice operations adopt speed-scratch food products to help boost efficiency. Learn more about the technology here (https://bit.ly/2JcwyHC).