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.
Has COVID-19 introduced new cleaning and sanitizing methods and products to your operation? Just be aware of any hazards of newer chemicals your staff uses to clean food surfaces and non-food surfaces. As Chris Boyles of Steritech recently told Winsight Grocery Business, touch points like door handles in the freezer can be difficult to clean and sanitize – and may need to be treated more frequently and with new chemical solutions intended for the coronavirus. If that’s the case for you, ensure your staff is well aware of how to treat those solutions, and particularly on which surfaces they can and can’t be applied. He said, “We frequently remind staff about the very serious dangers – potentially lethal dangers – of mixing different chemicals, for example, chlorine disinfectants with quat sanitizers.”
Let’s face it: Even if you keep your coolers and cooking equipment sparkling clean, a sloppy handoff of food to a customer can negate any special care you’re taking behind the scenes. Make sure your updated health and safety procedures carry through to when you pass food to customers who are collecting takeout or receiving deliveries. For takeout orders, Statefoodsafety.com advises taking extra care to wash hands regularly, keep food preparation areas clean, avoid cross-contamination of items and, if needed, keep food awaiting pickup in either hot- or cold-storage equipment until a customer collects it. Delivery drivers should arrive in a clean vehicle, have a means of cleaning their hands regularly, avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces before touching food or food containers, and have storage that keeps foods at the proper temperature at delivery.
Safety is the new hospitality – but will the enhanced, labor-intensive cleaning practices brought on by the pandemic persist indefinitely? Chris Boyles, vice president of food safety for Steritech, told Modern Restaurant Management recently that he sees potential for growth in food safety technologies ranging from far UVC light to kitchen sensors – tools that both happen to lighten the cleaning load for staff. Far UVC light, with its ability to destroy germs without harming people, may be tested this winter as operators battle through both flu season and COVID-19. Meanwhile, Boyles predicts that the use of sensors to ensure food safety may expand as operators automate more of their food preparation processes going forward.
The coronavirus has brought new importance to the cleanliness of restaurant facilities – and you may well be cleaning surfaces more regularly now. Your POS equipment needs special care, since improper cleaning and disinfecting can cloud screens or damage other components. The National Restaurant Association advises following the manufacturer’s guidelines for all cleaning and disinfecting, but some general rules apply overall: Before cleaning equipment, make sure your hands are clean and dry. Use a clean microfiber cloth or soft towel – not soap – to clean visible marks on equipment. Don’t pour disinfecting liquids directly onto a POS surface; rather, use a solution that’s at least 60 percent alcohol on a soft towel or microfiber cloth, or use premoistened alcohol wipes.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has addressed the need for good ventilation in its guidance about keeping indoor spaces safe from the coronavirus, overhauling ventilation systems isn’t typically at the top of the list of actions restaurant operators are taking to make their facilities safer right now. There are likely good reasons for that: For one, the challenging economic climate makes it difficult to fathom making a significant investment in an HVAC update. But what if there were more cost-effective ways to improve the air quality in your restaurant? Regular system inspections and maintenance, attention to cleaning products and protocols, and the reconfiguring of your kitchen and dining room can all help. This report from Modern Restaurant Management offers additional guidance (https://bit.ly/2DCTjSa).