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.
‘Tis the season for poultry – and an important time to review how to prepare it safely. Remember to wash hands, cutting boards, utensils and other nearby kitchen prep surfaces with soap and water immediately after handling raw poultry. Don’t rinse poultry in the sink, as it will not remove bacteria and can actually spread it around your kitchen. Place it on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator to avoid any leakage that could contaminate other foods. Cook it to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, then refrigerate leftovers no more than two hours after cooking.
As the weather cools in many places around the country, the lure of indoor dining becomes harder to ignore. While the pandemic persists, however, packing dining rooms simply isn’t safe – for guests and the staff whose health you’re relying on to operate smoothly this winter. While you’re still making use of outdoor space to serve guests, act now to make sure your indoor air is as safe as possible for everyone. Good ventilation is key, so your HVAC system should ensure a regular exchange of stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air. In a recent report from Eater, Dr. Elizabeth Noth, a researcher in environmental and occupational exposure science at UC Berkeley, advises that ventilation measures and mask wearing need to include not only dining areas but also break rooms and communal areas.
The coronavirus has strained the supply chain and added uncertainty to restaurant operators who need a steady supply of certain ingredients. Just make sure that supply chain pressures don’t result in cutting corners on supplier safety. Team Four can help you connect with reputable suppliers – but if you find other contenders, asking some key questions can help you discern their stability and reliability when it comes to food safety. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to ask for information about a supplier’s food safety standards, as well as about how long the company has been in business, how it transports food, and how it would handle any problem that arises with a supplied product.
COVID-19 infections continue to climb in the U.S. and since virus symptoms can take up to two weeks to emerge, it’s probable that at some point in the coming months, one of your team members will contract the virus or be exposed to others who have. Operators should have a clear plan of action to follow when this happens, to include sending the sick employee home, closing down any areas used by the employee, informing other staff of the infection, and then cleaning and sanitizing the affected areas in your restaurant. In the meantime, consider what support you would need to operate if and when one or more employees cannot come to work. Ensure there are multiple people cross-trained in daily tasks so you can avoid training someone on the fly. Also consider how you could adjust your seating or traffic flow if you had to temporarily close off any areas of your restaurant for cleaning and disinfection.
Turkey time is coming quickly. Whether you’re planning to pack up full meals to be heated and eaten off-premise, provide Thanksgiving meal kits for home cooks, or serve Thanksgiving meals on site (and obviously boxing up guests’ must-have leftovers), you need to ensure your food is both transported securely at the proper temperatures and consumed in a way that minimizes the risk for foodborne illness. It’s easy for not only turkey but also side dishes to be left out for too long or cooked inadequately, making it easier for bacteria to multiply. Providing your guests with detailed instructions for heating, refrigerating and reheating, and make sure you have well-insulated packaging that will ensure your dishes can be transported at safe temperatures.
You may well be freezing more foods lately amid the uncertainty in the food supply chain and in your customer numbers. Take care to thaw these foods carefully – items left on the counter to thaw may seem frozen even when their outer layer is well within the temperature danger zone (between 40 and 140°F). The USDA advises operators to use only three methods for thawing foods: refrigerating, submerging in cold water and microwaving. The latter two methods are fastest but require more vigilance: When submerging an item in cold water, ensure you use a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent contamination and change the water every 30 minutes. When microwaving, cook the item immediately after thawing in case parts of the food have been partially cooked (and may be in the danger zone).
Restaurant kitchens are used to having to maintain high standards for health and safety. Still, concern about COVID-19 and resulting strains on labor and resources may make it more likely for standards to fall through the cracks in other areas – like allergen safety. Take care to make sure allergen-free foods and the equipment used in their preparation are properly labelled; that these foods are sealed tightly in containers used only for those foods and stored in an area used just for those foods; that you’re using separate equipment, prep stations and utensils; and that your kitchen preparation areas are well-ventilated and cleaned. Granted, the current challenges of social distancing and limiting staff in the kitchen may make this more difficult. US Foods suggests planning ahead carefully to accommodate allergies if your training, resources and space are limited: That could mean committing to preparing allergen-free food only on set times and days, and with allergen-free equipment.
You may have found ways to socially distance tables in your dining room, invent curb-side pickup service outside your restaurant or create an outdoor eating area where one didn’t exist before – but how feasible has it been for you to make the changes to your kitchen that the pandemic has mandated for safety compliance? Restaurant kitchens generally conjure images of busy, loud spaces where people collaborate side by side, proper ventilation is a challenge and mask wearing can hinder both communication and comfort. That model doesn’t work anymore – so what can be done to both keep your kitchen busy with food preparation and minimize risks to staff? Futuristic Labs founder Goutham Gandhi says automation, which has become the norm in so many other facets of our lives, still has a long way to go in the kitchen – and the pandemic may fast-track its deployment. In a recent Modern Restaurant Management report, he predicts that the use of tools such as Riku, an automatic rice and curry maker that creates a range of recipes, will become the norm. This winter may prove telling in that area, particularly if and when operators experience last-minute labor shortages due to illness or lockdowns. Even if the automation of food preparation tasks isn’t practical for you, it’s still important to assess your menu and identify ways to minimize the labor and time required to prepare it. That may involve incorporating more speed-scratch and frozen foods, and identifying areas where labor-saving tools, technology or procedures may help you do more with less staff.
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.