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National Food Safety Month Tip: Food Safety in the Era of COVID-19

In the midst of COVID-19, the food safety stakes have become even higher.

But what’s important to remember is that COVID-19 is a workplace safety issue, not a food safety issue. “All of us are trying to do the right thing,” says Clay Hosh, instructional design manager for the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe food safety and training certification program. “Restaurants are cognizant that the public wants a certain level of assurance. Fortunately, there is not solid research that the virus is passed through food like the norovirus or Hepatitis A.”

The concern is not about the virus growing in food but stems from contracting the virus directly from people and surfaces. “[Where safety is concerned,] we’re talking about specifics on disinfecting and sanitizing, which are two different things that are done for different purposes,” Hosh says, who adds that ServSafe now offers a free COVID-19 training and reopening resources online.

Two other big pieces of the puzzle are protecting employees from each other as well as protecting customers from employees. “COVID information is critical and designed to prevent people from getting sick from others or off of surfaces whereas food safety is more about risks with the food itself,” Hosh says. “Food safety is recognizing the fact that food has the potential to be contaminated from outside factors.”

Also, differences exist between standard food safety procedures versus that aim to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, ServSafe’s COVID-19 materials and the CDC recommend washing hands for 20 seconds, while standard personal hygiene recommendations have said 10 to 15 seconds is sufficient. “The higher standards leave no room for error,” Hosh explains.

The disinfection portion of COVID-19 food safety recommendations goes beyond the former sanitizing standards. “With COVID, disinfecting is a key factor, as it is a newer [protocol] and something restaurant operators have familiarized themselves with,” Hosh says. “Operations have a good handle on it, yet it’s new for our industry and an additional process. We see it as a training opportunity now and for future disinfection.”