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.
As you open your doors to guests this spring, the windows and doors helping you ventilate your facility could also make it easier for pests to find their way inside. Check screens on windows and doors for holes and other damage, and if you have storage areas or outbuildings that haven’t been used as frequently during the pandemic, check for rodent activity. Inspect the exterior of your facility for cracks and trim back any brush that could harbor pests close to your walls. Ensure any sticky spills aren’t left for long periods, particularly if you have staff and guests circulating regularly between indoor and outdoor seating areas. Finally, since insects can hitch a ride into your kitchen on contaminated food, be sure to check your food deliveries for pest activity upon arrival and to store them promptly afterwards.
Your cutting boards can be accidental sources of cross-contamination – even if you’re just cutting produce. Clean and sanitize your cutting board after each use by first clearing the board of food particles, washing with warm, soapy water, rinsing, sanitizing and then drying – either with a clean cloth or by air dying. StateFoodSafety.com advises that any glass, plastic or stainless-steel boards be sanitized either in the dishwasher or with an FDA-approved sanitizer like chlorine, iodine or quaternary ammonium. Instead of using a dishwasher to sanitize marble or wooden boards, which can be damaged in the process, sanitize marble with chlorine and wood with quaternary ammonium.
COVID-19 has changed how we protect safety – and impacted consumer beliefs about the safety of indoor spaces including restaurants. A recent report in Food Safety News says while precautions like mask wearing and socially distanced seating will likely fade away with the virus, other precautions will remain. Frequent handwashing, of course, and hand sanitizer stations are here for the long haul. Beyond that, expect a general elevation of the importance of cleanliness to your brand – a need to take things a step beyond what is required in an effort to sustain consumer confidence. With every investment you make or equipment servicing you schedule, consider how well it will help you manage safety – whether it’s maintaining contactless payment and digital menus, bringing in new equipment and tools that are easier to clean, filtering the air in your facility, or managing labor in a way that considers the need for more frequent cleaning and sanitizing.
Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting have taken on new importance in restaurants – and have even become a selling point in the past year. At a time when we’re battling the spread of not only COVID-19 but also seasonal viruses, make sure your team isn’t cutting corners on keeping your restaurant safe. The National Restaurant Association advises restaurants take a five-step approach: First, remove any crumbs and spills with an absorbent, disposable towel or cloth. Then, with a new disposable wipe, use a surface-safe cleaning solution to dissolve any residue. Next, rinse the surface with water (the presence of leftover cleaning chemicals will prevent the sanitizer from working). Sanitizing is the critical next step in preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses – and restaurants often use a quaternary- or chlorine-based sanitizer for the job, along with a foodservice wipe (using a disposable one will prolong the life of the solution). Finally, allow time for air drying. Sanitizers generally need 60 seconds of contact to kill germs on the surface. Allowing a few extra seconds of drying time can make a difference to your safety. Knowing how often to clean and sanitize is important too: StateFoodSafety.com advises cleaning and sanitizing equipment and food contact surfaces after handling meat, after changing the food being prepared, after four hours of constant use and after taking a break.
Cooler temperatures help viruses survive and spread. Make sure your kitchen doesn’t harbor contaminants that could cause foodborne illness this winter. While cleaning and sanitizing your countertops and door handles may be second nature in your kitchen as part of your COVID-19 safety practices, don’t neglect regular cleaning of the area in and around your sinks. It’s easy for food particles and bacteria to lurk on sink handles and nearby rags, or to be splashed up onto sink rims and surrounding surfaces.
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 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.
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.
Even after we have a vaccine for COVID-19, the virus will still be with us and there will be a portion of the population especially vulnerable to it. Much like we have adapted our kitchens and food preparation practices for those with gluten allergies, we will likely have to make long-term changes to how we operate to protect against the coronavirus. Think about the ventilation in your facility, the level of interaction among your staff, technology that enables fast and contactless payment, and seamless pick-ups. Are there changes you have made in recent months that feel temporary but could be made permanent – and might help customers feel safer with you in the long term?