As the weather warms up and we crave – and have access to – more fresh, local produce, be sure to take appropriate food safety precautions with it. Don’t wash whole produce before storing it. In the refrigerator, keep it above and away from raw proteins – and avoid overcrowding it with other produce. Any chopped or peeled fresh produce must be refrigerated within two hours or discarded. When keeping cut produce in the refrigerator for later consumption, store it in airtight containers.
In a recent interview with Restaurant Technology News, OneDine CEO Rom Krupp said he thinks of COVID-19 as almost a compliance event – something that restaurants simply must adapt to accommodate, just as they have installed ramps for the disabled and offered gluten-free menus for gluten-sensitive guests. In that vein, it’s something restaurants will have to take actions to support not just in the near term, when large portions of the population are restricted in their movements and ability to connect with others, but also in the longer term as older and immune-compromised customers continue to have to think about their risks. As you adapt your safety procedures, think longterm. What products, technology and processes can help you minimize contact between your employees and guests on a permanent basis – and how can you implement changes in a way that inspires loyalty and protects your brand?
Research shared in a recent Datassential webinar said 72 percent of consumers don’t trust others to act responsibly when non-essential businesses (including bars and restaurants) reopen. As consumers begin to gather again, they don’t necessarily want their restaurant experience to feel just like it did a few months ago. They have new expectations of not only business operators and staff but of the other consumers around them. While one irresponsible guest can negatively impact the experience of others despite your best efforts, there are steps you can take to set expectations for all guests before anyone even sets foot inside. The Datassential research found that the vast majority of restaurant guests favor such actions as requiring those picking up takeout orders to wait outside and having only one person in a party enter at once, offering seating only to those who have made reservations and pre-orders, prohibiting large groups and designating certain hours for vulnerable guests only. At the top of the list of actions consumers said helped to build trust: maintaining six feet or more distance from others (85 percent), having staff at the door to manage your facility’s capacity (83 percent), requiring customers to sanitize hands upon entry (81 percent) and ensuring any guests at the bar have a seat (81 percent). Don’t be afraid to overdo when it comes to communicating safety.
As restaurants and other businesses reopen and people gather in greater numbers, there is a risk of increased cases of Covid-19. Your cleaning practices, cleaning materials and labor scheduling plan needs to keep pace with the new environment. Chris Boyles, vice president of food safety at Steritech, told Restaurant Dive that cleaning costs will look different for restaurants now. For example: Do you have sufficient staff on hand to carry out your enhanced cleaning procedures? Are you using disinfectants that have been approved by the EPA for use against COVID-19? If one of your employees tests positive for the virus and you need to close your premises for cleaning, what will it cost to hire a third-party disinfection service if required? Anticipating these costs and planning for them may help you avoid having to pay more than needed as you ensure your business is clean and ready to serve guests.
If you are transporting food to customers or using outside providers to do so, make sure the steps you are taking to keep your facility clean and sanitized are also being used to keep food safe in transit. Beyond practicing social distancing when dropping off food and offering no-contact deliveries, the FDA advises the regular wiping down of surfaces within delivery vehicles and on touchpads using household cleaning sprays or wipes. Secure the wrapping and packaging you use for takeout food to prevent contamination and regularly clean and sanitize the coolers and insulated bags you use to carry food for delivery.
Cleanliness has new importance right now – both to your employees and your customers. As you prepare to bring people back into your establishment in greater numbers, promote the actions you are taking to protect everyone’s health and safety. Hyatt, for one, recently announced it is revamping its cleanliness guidelines and appointing a hygiene manager to each of its hotels in the coming months to ensure adherence to the new procedures. Now could be a good time to update your own cleaning procedures and do the kind of deep cleaning and disinfection that is difficult to take on in busier times. When is the last time you steam cleaned your walk-in cooler? Beyond cleaning and disinfecting surfaces such as tables, counters, touchscreens, faucets and light switches, focus on hard-to-reach areas in and around appliances, remote controls, keyboards and other electronics with recessed buttons that can harbor pathogens. While carrying out these cleaning tasks is simply part of running a restaurant, the public has never been more interested in knowing how you’re keeping them safe.
To avoid the spread of the coronavirus, not to mention seasonal flu, restaurants and other facilities where people congregate are raising their game when it comes to regularly disinfecting the surfaces where germs can lurk and be easily transferred. Beyond the long list of items such as table surfaces, seating areas, food preparation areas and trash containers that are a regular part of your cleaning routine, remember small-surface-area items like light switches, keypads and door push plates that can harbor harmful bacteria. Don’t neglect to clean and sanitize handles throughout your facility too – such as those on toilets, sinks, doors, food and ice scoops and appliances – as well as push plates on soap, paper towel and beverage dispensers. Be sure to use sanitizers at the proper temperature, concentration and for the proper length of time to ensure their effectiveness. The health technology company Ecolab provides industry-specific checklists that remind operators of the surfaces they need to clean and sanitize regularly – or contact Team Four for help in fine-tuning your cleaning and sanitation practices.
Amid increasing calls for people to stay home right now, restaurants have to make it clear to customers that they provide safe takeout and/or delivery – and with far fewer interactions than are common at grocery stores. First take stock of how you are keeping your operation and employees safe at the moment, including wearing gloves and masks, disinfecting your POS terminals between customers, offering curbside pickup and taking care to keep your delivery packaging free from contaminants. Transition to accepting only mobile/card payment and if you have an app, add a contactless option that allows pre-payment and enables customers to provide directions for a contactless drop-off. Then make your new protocol clear on your website and social media accounts. Consider posting a short video that takes viewers through the process of getting a takeout or delivery order from you right now. When people are deciding if and where to order restaurant food, it can make a difference.
If you’re open for business right now, you can take some extra steps to keep your workplace and team safe. First, at a time when bad news is rampant and often unreliable, take your cues from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization or local authorities on the state of COVID-19 containment in your area. Direct your staff based on those reports to ensure you make decisions using accurate, up-to-date information. Then trace the path of your team each day and identify actions you can take to protect people: Does your team use public transport to reach you? How can you help them protect their safety en route? Can you update your cleaning protocol to ensure your team has clean hands when they enter your facility? How can you ensure physical distancing in your kitchen? What technology tools at your disposal could enable some people to complete tasks from home? If a team member becomes ill, what is your back-up plan? Down the line, it is likely that we’ll have to manage either new mutations of the coronavirus or new virus outbreaks. Preparing now may help sustain your business.
As consumers take increased precautions to protect their safety during the coronavirus pandemic, they can take some solace that restaurants have to follow a detailed health and food safety protocol as a regular part of doing business – and that the transmission method of COVID-19 doesn’t change the efficacy of this protocol. Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, told the Huffington Post that because coronavirus infection occurs primarily through the respiratory system, the chance of getting COVID-19 from food is extremely low. “The respiratory virus risk in restaurants is really more about being in the same location as a lot of people, some of whom can be depositing the virus on surfaces like tables, doors, menus, and managing that with a hand washing and alcohol-based sanitizer regime is an effective step to reduce risks of both COVID-19 and Influenza.” Restricting restaurant sales to curbside takeout and delivery reduces those respiratory risks even further.