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).
It’s only natural to want to clean everything in sight during a pandemic – and restaurant operators, among other organizations, are embracing more frequent surface cleanings and deep cleanings in an effort to keep their business safe and project the impression that their restaurant can be trusted. Remember the true risk when focusing on operating in current conditions. A July article in the medical journal The Lancet said studies that found COVID-19 was likely to live on metal and paper for days were based on strong concentrations of the virus – in other words, 100 people would have to sneeze on the same area of a surface to recreate the testing conditions. Not so likely, right? So focus on the primary way the virus is transmitted: through the air. Assess indoor air circulation in your facility. Ensure your staff is ready to follow protocols on sneezing and coughing. Enforce the wearing of masks and the placement of people around your restaurant. A report from The Atlantic illustrates the risk of prioritizing the cleaning of surfaces as opposed to the air we’re breathing. All of this is not to say it’s not important to follow cleaning procedures that minimize the risk of contamination – just don’t let them distract from common areas of virus risk transmission. #foodsafety
Consumers are monitoring your adherence to new safety precautions. Increasingly, so are cameras. Last year, Domino’s launched a back-of-house camera system called Dragontail to help assess basic quality control measures, like whether pizzas were the proper shape. But as Spoon reports, Dragontail is now launching an AI-powered camera that can also help monitor kitchen safety – detecting whether gloves and masks are being worn and how often a workspace is sanitized, for example. Expect more of this to come as restaurants embrace technology and face increased scrutiny of their health and safety practices. #foodsafety
While it’s critical to keep food preparation surfaces clean and sanitized, more is not better when it comes to sanitizer. As a Wake County Environmental Services report indicates, high concentrations of sanitizer can corrode equipment and make it more difficult to clean. They can also leave behind an odor or leave a bad taste on surfaces. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use chemical test strips to ensure proper concentration levels.
In the space of just a few months, hygiene has taken on a much-elevated role in hospitality. Zagat’s newly released Future of Dining Study found that nearly 75 percent of the 6,500 diners surveyed said health and safety were overwhelmingly the most important factors influencing their decision to dine at restaurants in the months ahead. And much like the guest opinions about your service and food that appeared on Yelp and Tripadvisor a few months ago, you can now expect consumers to scrutinize (and comment online about) the cleanliness of their experience with you, whether good or bad. Any additional checks you can put in place to protect your new health and safety policies may help you to both address health risks quickly and manage your online presence. Further, supplementary health and safety checks could become more prevalent in states where virus infections have spiked. For example, the Texas Restaurant Association and the customer feedback firm A Closer Look have partnered with Dallas College to develop a training, inspection and certification program for restaurants. Pyments.com reports that the program includes a mystery shopper-type component that allows a person to answer a three-question survey about the health practices they see at the restaurant. The information is then relayed in real time to the restaurant’s corporate offices – and may at the same time help give consumers the outlet they need to share a negative experience.
When Chipotle had to manage an E. coli outbreak in 2015, its actions paved the way for 2020. To earn customers’ trust, it overhauled its food preparation practices – and in the process created a solid foundation to operate during the challenging climate that is 2020. The protocols introduced, which Fortune said included washing hands between tasks, placing hand sanitizer at the door and changing air filtration systems, sound like a list of COVID-19 reopening guidelines. While the brand has made other operational changes during the pandemic, those changes have focused on paid sick leave, employee compensation and delivery tracking – while other brands have had to implement more sweeping changes. Could your restaurant’s longtime safety record help you create a better blueprint for safety now?
How do your employees get to work? Much is said about how to properly use public transport to minimize the spread of infection, but even if your staff travels to work by car, it’s important for them to take safety precautions – particularly as many states are having to tighten their safety procedures in light of rising COVID-19 infection rates. The CDC advises people to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces of personal vehicles (e.g. steering wheel, door handles, gear shift and seat belt buckles). When using parking meters and fuel nozzles, disinfect surfaces with alcohol wipes or use a hand sanitizer afterwards. Travel with open windows or at least avoid using the recirculated air setting in a car. Finally, consider limiting the number of people in the car to only those who are necessary.
The sanitizers you use to clean dishes and other surfaces in your kitchen are only effective when used at the advised temperature for a specific concentration – otherwise you may be spreading pathogens around your kitchen or using a chemical in a dangerous way. For instance, the 2017 FDA Food Code indicates that chlorine sanitizers with concentrations ranging from 25-49 mg/L should be prepared with water that’s 120˚F, concentrations from 50-99 mg/L with water that’s 100˚F and concentrations of 100 mg/L with water that’s 55˚F. Iodine sanitizers should be prepared with water measuring 68˚F and quaternary ammonium compound sanitizers should be prepared with water measuring 75˚F. Statefoodsafety.com advises using chemical test strips to confirm you’re using the right concentrations and temperatures.
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?