While Covid variants continue to be front-of-mind for restaurant operators, it can be easy to forget about the other seasonal illnesses that can impact a restaurant, particularly norovirus (which, although it can strike at any time of year, is known as the “winter vomiting bug” for a reason). Norovirus causes more foodborne illnesses than all bacterial pathogens combined. You can prevent its spread in your restaurant by having a food safety plan that considers your entire facility, including restrooms, your dining room and supply areas in addition to your kitchen. Reinforce with employees the need to wash hands even more frequently than usual with soap and water, and keep stations well stocked with soap and paper towels. Conduct training with staff on cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, including the proper solutions to use, as well as the amounts, applications and schedule of use. Finally, schedule frequent restroom cleanings and give staff a refresher on what procedures must be used when cleaning up after someone has been ill in your facility.
The holidays may be a time to kick back and celebrate – but don’t let your guard down when it comes to Covid safety. In the U.S., 5 percent of the population has some kind of immune-compromised condition, so even though the vaccine is widespread, unventilated gatherings can still pose problems. Ensure good air flow through gathering rooms in your facility, make sanitizer accessible and ensure any policies you have on guest vaccination, testing or masking are clear to your team and communicated to guests.
Cleaning was once something restaurant employees tried to keep hidden behind the scenes. But now, your guests take comfort in knowing what you do to keep your facility clean and limit the spread of illness. What’s more, they are more likely to be watching what your team does to maintain safety between guests and during the course of a busy shift. Make your cleaning procedures a continuous part of your training and empower employees to take responsibility for safety within your business, knowing they have your backing. Wherever possible, employ digital tools to keep track of cleaning tasks that might be overlooked during a busy period and to provide regular alerts to staff about tasks that need to be completed.
As careful as your kitchen team may be about wiping up regularly, if they use rags that aren’t washed, sanitized and/or replaced frequently enough, they run the risk of spreading pathogens around your facility and potentially contaminating food. Warm kitchens are especially effective breeding grounds for bacteria. Make sure your cleaning rags are replaced or washed daily and that between uses, you store wet reusable cloths in a container with sanitizer at the required concentration.
Cleaning tools such as sponges and wiping cloths can become contaminated with bacterial pathogens and harbor these contaminants for more than two weeks, according to a recent study by researchers at the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. The researchers found that E. coli, Salmonella and S. aureus survived for up to 16 days in sponges and 13 days on microfiber towels washed in sterile water – and that sanitizing solution is ineffective at sterilizing these tools after four hours. Are you replacing sanitizing solution frequently enough in your kitchen?
Even before the pandemic, restaurant guests would make assumptions about the state of the restrooms and what they might indicate about the restaurant’s commitment to food health and safety. Now that guests are all the more aware of cleaning and sanitation practices, as well as the ways in which viruses can spread, it’s important that your restaurant presents you well. If your restaurant has high-traffic periods, make sure you have larger dispensers that help ensure you won’t get caught short on soap and hand towels. Replace air dryers. Finally, develop a clear checklist of maintenance tasks and have your staff check restrooms at regular intervals.
There’s nothing like a cool drink on a warm day. Just make sure your team is handling ice as safely as possible day to day, as your ice machine can be a haven for bacteria and viruses. Have employees wash hands before scooping ice from the bin. Store the scoop outside of the machine and consider it the only tool used to scoop ice – don’t use glassware, which could chip and cause a safety hazard or contaminate ice in the machine. Sanitize your scoop in your dishwasher. Finally, keep your ice machine door closed securely when not in use.
Your cutting boards can be accidental sources of cross-contamination – even if you’re just cutting produce. Clean and sanitize your cutting board after each use by first clearing the board of food particles, washing with warm, soapy water, rinsing, sanitizing and then drying – either with a clean cloth or by air dying. StateFoodSafety.com advises that any glass, plastic or stainless-steel boards be sanitized either in the dishwasher or with an FDA-approved sanitizer like chlorine, iodine or quaternary ammonium. Instead of using a dishwasher to sanitize marble or wooden boards, which can be damaged in the process, sanitize marble with chlorine and wood with quaternary ammonium.
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.
Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting have taken on new importance in restaurants – and have even become a selling point in the past year. At a time when we’re battling the spread of not only COVID-19 but also seasonal viruses, make sure your team isn’t cutting corners on keeping your restaurant safe. The National Restaurant Association advises restaurants take a five-step approach: First, remove any crumbs and spills with an absorbent, disposable towel or cloth. Then, with a new disposable wipe, use a surface-safe cleaning solution to dissolve any residue. Next, rinse the surface with water (the presence of leftover cleaning chemicals will prevent the sanitizer from working). Sanitizing is the critical next step in preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses – and restaurants often use a quaternary- or chlorine-based sanitizer for the job, along with a foodservice wipe (using a disposable one will prolong the life of the solution). Finally, allow time for air drying. Sanitizers generally need 60 seconds of contact to kill germs on the surface. Allowing a few extra seconds of drying time can make a difference to your safety. Knowing how often to clean and sanitize is important too: StateFoodSafety.com advises cleaning and sanitizing equipment and food contact surfaces after handling meat, after changing the food being prepared, after four hours of constant use and after taking a break.