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?
What’s a holiday menu without potatoes, carrots, turnips and the many other root vegetables of the season? Just take care to wash them carefully before you slice into them, since the crevices in these vegetables can trap dirt and contaminants that you don’t want to pass on to other parts of the food. Before peeling or slicing these items, soak them in cold water for a few minutes before rinsing them under running water while scrubbing them with a clean brush.
Even during a normal winter with its typical viruses, overzealous cleaning would be expected. This year, your staff may be taking even more precautions to keep everything from doorknobs to POS touchscreens clean. Make sure they know the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting – and which solutions are to be used for which surfaces. Wiping down a surface with the wrong solution can not only be ineffective, but it may also damage the surface being washed (as in the screens of tablets or other electronics). If you need a reference, the National Restaurant Association provides some guidance.
You have likely stepped up your cleaning procedures since the start of COVID-19, but some procedures shouldn’t change. Case in point: Your existing methods for ensuring the safety of food including fruits, vegetables and packaged products. According to the CDC, the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 by eating or handling food and food packages is very low. Further, the CDC advises against wiping down cardboard or plastic packaging with disinfectants meant for hard surfaces, which may contaminate the food itself. After handling packages, it’s most beneficial to simply wash hands with soap and water.
Safety is central to hospitality these days – and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. So it makes sense that travel and hospitality review sites would try to help consumers identify businesses that have made a clear commitment to protecting guest safety (and in the process, penalize those that don’t). Tripadvisor’s recently added Travel Safe feature filters businesses including restaurants by their health and safety protocols. The feature must be activated by the business and relies upon businesses to share and promote their safety practices. This may become the norm on more review sites as the pandemic persists, so keep tabs on the sites where your business may be rated and reviewed – and be ready to provide information about the precautions you’re taking.