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.
‘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.
Count on it: Someone on your team is apt to come down with an illness this winter. How should you prepare? And how do you know if it’s flu or COVID-19, which requires a different kind of response from you? First, make sure you and your team are clear on how symptoms of the flu differ from those of the coronavirus and other milder illnesses. While there are strong similarities between COVID-19 and the flu, COVID-19 can involve some odd ones, like the sudden loss of a person’s sense of smell. As a recent New York Times report advises, this is the year to urge everyone on your staff to get a flu shot as an extra precaution.
Much like airport security measures changed for good after 9/11, COVID-19 is altering the way we eat out – and many of those changes are likely to be permanent. That means it’s important for operators to act now to make lasting changes to how they prepare and serve food – not simply apply a band-aid solution intended to work until a vaccine is available. If you have offered food via a buffet, salad bar or even on large, shareable platters served to a single table, implement a lower-contact plan to serve those foods. Train your staff on your updated safety procedures and make them visible to your guests within your facility and on online channels. In a recent FSR Magazine report, food safety expert Francine Shaw also suggests updating your crisis management plan for the long haul, as well as broadening your list of suppliers to help ensure you can always source the ingredients you need. Doing so will help your operation protect itself against a range of potential future challenges – not just COVID-19. #foodsafety #T4V4
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.
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).