When Covid hit and we learned more about how the virus was transmitted, more operators began to experiment with the use of UV-C lights used to kill the airborne virus and make indoor dining feel like a safer option during outbreaks. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) recently began using a system of UV-C germicidal bulbs at its four locations in response to Covid. In a recent FastCasual webinar, "Emerging Trends in Restaurant Health,” David Behnke from the CIA discussed the safety benefits he has seen from the technology. The use of these lights could have the side benefit of reducing food waste as well. A decade ago, Middleby Bluezone, the supplier of the UV-C model used by the CIA, used this technology to address the challenge of getting fresh produce to U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It placed one of its UV-C light models in shipping containers to the Middle East to destroy mold and bacteria en route, enabling the technology to extend the shelf life of produce.
One COVID-era precaution that seems to be finding new applications in the post-pandemic world is UV lighting. While UV lights were adopted by some operators last year as a means of keeping food safe by killing bacteria, they are now being integrated into the food storage lockers that are becoming an increasingly common off-premise dining solution. Business Insider reports that brands including Burger King, KFC and Smashburger are testing heated or cooled lockers designed to keep food at the proper temperature until that food is collected, and some of the lockers use UV light to kill bacteria.
Safety is the new hospitality – but will the enhanced, labor-intensive cleaning practices brought on by the pandemic persist indefinitely? Chris Boyles, vice president of food safety for Steritech, told Modern Restaurant Management recently that he sees potential for growth in food safety technologies ranging from far UVC light to kitchen sensors – tools that both happen to lighten the cleaning load for staff. Far UVC light, with its ability to destroy germs without harming people, may be tested this winter as operators battle through both flu season and COVID-19. Meanwhile, Boyles predicts that the use of sensors to ensure food safety may expand as operators automate more of their food preparation processes going forward.