Most restaurants have been operating differently over the past few months. Some have been open with limited services such as takeout and delivery. Others have been closed altogether.
Reopening a restaurant that has been partially or fully closed requires a number of steps. Add to this the complexity of getting ready for service during a pandemic. To assist, the FDA recently released a reopening checklist to address key food safety practices along with this at-a-glance food safety infographic. These resources are by no means exhaustive. The FDA recommends partnering with local regulatory/health authorities to discuss specific re-opening requirements.
In a nutshell, restaurant operations are changing in response to COVID-19. Based on these best practices, here are 6 top tips along with key considerations.
1. Basic Facility Operations Still Apply… and Then Some.
- Ensure the premises are operational and in good working order.
- Clean, disinfect, and sanitize throughout the facility before reopening.
- Monitor for pests and ensure any pest control measures are functioning.
- Consider increasing the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors or using fans (without posing a safety risk to children).
- Discontinue or limit self-service food or drink options such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations.
2. A Social Distancing Environment Is the New Normal.
- Restrict the number of customers and increase spacing to maintain at least 6 feet distance between diners.
- Take measures to minimize contact at checkout and pay stations by marking 6-foot distances with floor tape and consider installing partitions if feasible.
- Consider temporarily moving workstations to create more distance at checkout.
3. A Protected Patron Is More Likely to Be Loyal.
- Post signs with reminders on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 and promote everyday protective measures.
- Remove or replace high-touch items such as seat covers, tablecloths, condiments, and menus. Be sure to stock sufficient supplies of replacement single-use items.
- Place paper towels and trash cans in bathrooms so doors can be opened and closed without touching handles directly.
4. Calling Out Sick Takes on New Meaning.
- Consider having a protocol in place to check employee health and personal hygiene practices.
- Plan for an adequate supply of PPE for employees.
- Have a plan to monitor and respond to a higher-than-normal level of absenteeism.
- Restrict the number of employees in shared spaces, including workstations, kitchens, break rooms, and offices to maintain at least a 6-foot distance between workers.
5. Cleaning and Disinfecting Are Critical.
- Develop a disinfection schedule or routine plan in light of the new environment.
- Ensure food contact surfaces, common use areas, and high touch areas/equipment are cleaned thoroughly and frequently.
- Ensure your sanitizers and disinfectants meet EPA criteria for use against COVID-19 and ensure employees know how to properly use and store them.
- Increase your order of cleaning supplies since you will be cleaning more frequently.
- If reusing food service items such as silverware and dishes, they should be handled with gloves, and employees should wash their hands after removing gloves and after directly handling used food service items.
- Train and remind employees about effective hand hygiene practices.
- Consider installing additional hand sanitizer stations to encourage hand hygiene by both customers and employees.
6. You Probably Won’t Be Relying on Surface Testing in the Near Future
Should restaurants be conducting surface testing for COVID-19? There is no easy answer, because the testing itself is complex and, as of the time of writing, not in widespread use. Tests quality varies, testing can be costly, results take time and they often provide limited information.
Here’s why: A surface may potentially contain a viable “live” virus, which can lead to infection. Or it may contain viral RNA, the material the virus leaves behind as it degrades, which is believed to pose no threat to people. Live virus testing requires special facilities and extensive safety measures which makes it less feasible right now. Viral RNA testing is simpler but give its nature, has limited usefulness. The technology is simply not at the point where it can let the average restauranteur know whether any given table is safe for patrons. Here’s more about surface testing if you’re interested.
What can you do in the absence of testing? Many experts say that the best defense against COVID-19 is to increase your cleaning procedures. Armed with these tips, you can get ready to welcome diners back when the time comes.
Interested in more content on food safety and testing? Be sure to check out the Puritan Medical Food Safety portal for all the latest news and information.