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.
The sanitizers you use to clean dishes and other surfaces in your kitchen are only effective when used at the advised temperature for a specific concentration – otherwise you may be spreading pathogens around your kitchen or using a chemical in a dangerous way. For instance, the 2017 FDA Food Code indicates that chlorine sanitizers with concentrations ranging from 25-49 mg/L should be prepared with water that’s 120˚F, concentrations from 50-99 mg/L with water that’s 100˚F and concentrations of 100 mg/L with water that’s 55˚F. Iodine sanitizers should be prepared with water measuring 68˚F and quaternary ammonium compound sanitizers should be prepared with water measuring 75˚F. Statefoodsafety.com advises using chemical test strips to confirm you’re using the right concentrations and temperatures.
As the weather warms up and we crave – and have access to – more fresh, local produce, be sure to take appropriate food safety precautions with it. Don’t wash whole produce before storing it. In the refrigerator, keep it above and away from raw proteins – and avoid overcrowding it with other produce. Any chopped or peeled fresh produce must be refrigerated within two hours or discarded. When keeping cut produce in the refrigerator for later consumption, store it in airtight containers.
To avoid the spread of the coronavirus, not to mention seasonal flu, restaurants and other facilities where people congregate are raising their game when it comes to regularly disinfecting the surfaces where germs can lurk and be easily transferred. Beyond the long list of items such as table surfaces, seating areas, food preparation areas and trash containers that are a regular part of your cleaning routine, remember small-surface-area items like light switches, keypads and door push plates that can harbor harmful bacteria. Don’t neglect to clean and sanitize handles throughout your facility too – such as those on toilets, sinks, doors, food and ice scoops and appliances – as well as push plates on soap, paper towel and beverage dispensers. Be sure to use sanitizers at the proper temperature, concentration and for the proper length of time to ensure their effectiveness. The health technology company Ecolab provides industry-specific checklists that remind operators of the surfaces they need to clean and sanitize regularly – or contact Team Four for help in fine-tuning your cleaning and sanitation practices.
As the coronavirus has spread and restaurants have had to transition to a takeout-only model, what are restaurants to do to protect themselves and the customers they serve – and to somehow keep business coming in? Despite the many tech advances that have swept the industry, restaurants – until very recently – have been social places where people are on the front lines. A recent Restaurant Business report, which includes advice from a law firm specializing in employment issues, advises clear communication with employees in several areas: share your plan with them (and make sure it covers employee concerns such as your sick leave policy and your plan of operation during school closures) and provide training to ensure everyone knows what procedures to follow if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are diagnosed with it. Day to day, increase your efforts to sanitize door handles and kitchen and bathroom surfaces more often. Some operators are placing hand sanitizer at their building entrances, as well as outside the restroom and at stations in the back of the house. And while delivery was once considered a nice-to-have service, it’s now critical. Even if you don’t currently offer mobile ordering tech, now is the time to adjust your menu and offer a simple takeout menu that can be picked up outside of your establishment or dropped off outside a customer’s door for contactless delivery. Right now food delivery is considered a public service for people who are elderly, vulnerable and isolated, so promote on social media and to neighborhood news groups that you are open and ready to help, and provide your menu and contact information. Finally, encourage people to pick up the phone and call you – it’s old-fashioned but people are missing the social connections that restaurants have long been able to provide. You can provide a valuable way for people maintain those community ties as the industry pulls through this time of uncertainty.
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?
The USDA and CDC have long advised against washing chicken for food safety reasons. Still, a number of restaurant chefs disagree and wash poultry not necessarily with the intent of killing germs – which only cooking will achieve – but to remove any grit or sodium on the outside of the poultry and to help make its surface easier for spices and other seasonings to adhere. You do not need to wash poultry before cooking – in fact, any splashes generated by washing can contaminate nearby surfaces and utensils with dangerous bacteria for months. But if you feel you must rinse the outside of poultry to clean its outer surfaces, Argyris Magoulas, a USDA technical information specialist, told Today.com that it is okay to soak poultry in water, taking extra caution that juices don’t splash, and leaving it in the refrigerator for no more than two hours before cooking.