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Food Safety in Coronavirus High-Alert Times

As the coronavirus remains a top news story, it’s a reminder to everyone in the foodservice industry the importance of food safety measures. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that so far this season 26 million people have contracted the flu. It is very likely that many of these consumers ate at a restaurant around the time they were contaminated. Now is a great time to reassess sanitation measures: How strong is your strategy to prevent the transmission of the flu virus?

iStock Surgical Mask lgWaitstaff: The First Line of Defense

Waitstaff come in contact the most with customers. As an operator’s defense system, they need to be well trained and constantly reminded of the importance of the role they play. Training should be a daily conversation, not a once-a-month event.

Hal King, Ph.D., president and founder of Public Health Innovations, points to three key items to review routinely:

  • Hold glasses and cutlery correctly: never put fingers near the areas that will be in contact with customers’ mouths. King says, in full-service restaurants, many state regulatory agencies require that all clean cutlery be wrapped.
  • Sanitize tabletop items daily (menus, condiments containers, pens used to sign checks). This can be done at end of day part or end of day.
  • Reinforce the 20-second handwashing Wet hands, soap for 10 to 15 seconds, rinse and dry, repeat frequently. Wash before handling clean tableware and after handling soiled tableware.

Additionally, sick waitstaff should never come to work, King emphasizes. They need to understand the seriousness of this issue and stay home when exhibiting any symptoms, such as fever, sweating, chills, vomiting or diarrhea.

Virus Transmission

There are many food-related pathogens that enter a foodservice operation in the kitchen, but the flu represents more of a front-of-the-house issue. The highest risk comes from infected people who cough, sneeze or even talk. Droplets from their mouths travel up to six feet and can infect others one day before symptoms begin and five to seven days after a person becomes sick.

The second way to transmit flu germs is via high-touch surfaces, which King calls hot spots. He defines hot spots as any place that people touch frequently, leaving viruses and other pathogens behind. These include restroom door handles — in and out, sink faucet handles, stall latches, and chairs and tables in the dining area. These culprits must be sanitized frequently.

Other hot spots include everything on a tabletop: plates, cutlery, menus, condiments, pens for signing checks. Foodservice operators need to sanitize all of these with varying degrees of regularity. Some viral pathogens like the stomach flu or noroviruses can live for weeks once they land on a table, King says.

Use Proper Sanitizers

Operators should use sanitizers that are EPA-registered on the label to kill named pathogens like flu and norovirus, King says. “Sanitizing surfaces with the proper sanitizer can be used to break the chain of transmission,” he says. Disposable sanitizer wipes are preferable, he adds, since rags and wipes used over and over can harbor pathogens.

Provide waitstaff with the tools and training to keep themselves and the customers healthy. They are any foodservice operation’s defense.

Click for a full list of sanitation best practices.