The past year has sharpened our focus on the spread of viruses. As we come through the pandemic, take care to maintain simple practices that go far in preventing the spread of bacteria. According to the CDC, bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods causes about 30 percent of restaurant foodborne illness outbreaks each year. Beyond all-important frequent handwashing, StatefoodSafety.com advises using gloves, deli tissue or tongs to provide a barrier between hands and ready-to-eat foods, and carrying plates, glasses and utensils in a way that avoids the touching of eating or drinking surfaces.
If gloves have become a part of your pandemic food safety protocol, make sure your staff know how best to use them and where they can fall short, since they can introduce new risks if the wearer isn’t mindful of them. Above all, gloves can give the wearer a false sense of security, so enforce the need to avoid cross-contaminating foods and preparation areas while wearing gloves, and to wash hands with soap and water, then dry them, before and after wearing gloves. Also ensure the gloves are a proper fit, since rips or punctures could lead to contamination. Employees should change (and discard) disposable gloves between tasks, after touching hair, mouth or nose, or after four hours of use. Sturdy, reusable gloves should be washed and sanitized between tasks.
COVID-19 has changed how we protect safety – and impacted consumer beliefs about the safety of indoor spaces including restaurants. A recent report in Food Safety News says while precautions like mask wearing and socially distanced seating will likely fade away with the virus, other precautions will remain. Frequent handwashing, of course, and hand sanitizer stations are here for the long haul. Beyond that, expect a general elevation of the importance of cleanliness to your brand – a need to take things a step beyond what is required in an effort to sustain consumer confidence. With every investment you make or equipment servicing you schedule, consider how well it will help you manage safety – whether it’s maintaining contactless payment and digital menus, bringing in new equipment and tools that are easier to clean, filtering the air in your facility, or managing labor in a way that considers the need for more frequent cleaning and sanitizing.
While more frequent handwashing and use of alcohol-based sanitizers may be keeping bacteria at bay in your restaurant, they may also wreak havoc on skin during the winter months. Dry, cracked, itchy, flaky or even bleeding skin can result – and increase the risk of infection. While washing with lukewarm water and using moisturizers can help, the use of ointments or creams isn’t practical when preparing food. Encourage your staff to take extra care of their skin when they are away from work. The American Academy of Dermatology Association advises moisturizing immediately after washing hands and using a squeezable, fragrance-free, mineral oil- or petrolatum-based cream or ointment. Doing so is especially important after applying alcohol-based sanitizers, which can be more drying for skin.
It’s that time of year again when hand cleanliness becomes even more important – and that would be true even if we weren’t in a pandemic. While there may be more hand sanitizer and disposable gloves around your facility right now, don’t let them lull your team into a false sense of security. They work best in combination with handwashing, so think of handwashing as a lead actor and sanitizer and gloves as supporting characters, elevating the safety of already-washed hands. The Centers for Disease Control advise that proper handwashing requires these five steps: Wet hands with clean, running water; apply soap and lather hands on both sides, between fingers and under nails; scrub for at least 20 seconds; rinse hands well under clean, running water; and dry hands on a clean towel. Add sanitizer for extra protection after handwashing – not in place of it. Change and dispose of gloves between key prep tasks, like handling meat and chopping vegetables, and wash and dry hands thoroughly in between.
Hand sanitizer dispensers have become a common sight at restaurant entrances, in restrooms and on tables in recent months. While thorough handwashing with soap and water is the gold standard when it comes to preserving hygiene, hand sanitizers can be a helpful tool in managing the spread of germs in various parts of a restaurant. Just make sure your staff is aware of how to use sanitizers most effectively – and where they fall short. Sanitizers cannot protect against the bacteria that causes diarrhea, so they are best used in conjunction with washing with soap and water, or in situations where handwashing isn’t possible – not as a substitute for handwashing or as a reason to delay it. To be effective, sanitizers should contain, at a minimum, 60 percent alcohol. Finally, despite the expense of sanitizers, don’t cut corners when sourcing them. Purchase them from a supplier who can ensure quality.
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.
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?
If the rapid spread of the coronavirus in recent weeks has proven anything, it is this: It is more important than ever to respect and reinforce the steps individuals can take to contain potential outbreaks. While the coronavirus is an extreme example of what can happen during an outbreak, virus outbreaks are likely to become an increasingly regular part of life as global warming contributes to a rise in new pathogens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While these pathogens may increase in variety and complexity, it will continue to be critical for people to follow a couple of simple practices to limit the spread of illness. As a physician and journalist who covered the SARS outbreak in China wrote recently in the New York Times, washing hands frequently and not coming to work when you are ill are the most important takeaways to remember when preventing the spread of pathogens. In addition, a Guardian report advises taking such precautions as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue (or with your elbow) when you cough or sneeze, then discarding the tissue and washing hands immediately after. Do your training procedures emphasize the most important steps workers can take to prevent the spread of illness in your facility?
Proper handwashing can go far in preventing food contamination, as well as containing a virus during cold and flu season. As it pertains to the foodservice industry, the CDC advises people to wash their hands at these times to prevent the spread of germs: before, during and after food prep, before eating, before and after treating a cut or wound, after using the toilet, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and after touching garbage.