Washing hands and sanitizing surfaces were pillars of restaurant hygiene before the coronavirus pandemic hit. But those routines are more important now as restaurants across the country reopen dining rooms even as the virus continues to spread. Here are 14 tips that operators should keep in mind, shared by experts on two recent webinars.
The coronavirus is easy to kill
The coronavirus is part of a group of viruses called enveloped viruses, which are considered easier to kill using normal hygiene practices, said Carolyn Berland, senior scientist and brand innovation manager with Tork, in a Thursday webinar hosted by the National Restaurant Association Show. That’s why washing hands with soap and water is the key defense tactic.
Go easy on your hands
The skin itself is a defense mechanism against bacteria, and frequent hand-washing can damage that protective layer. When selecting a soap, operators should look for products “that are effective but also gentle to the skin,” Berland said, such as those with glycerin or other moisturizers.
Water temperature should be comfortable
“Temperature of water is not very important at all in terms of removing germs,” Berland said. The best water temperature is whatever is most comfortable for the individual, she said. Water that is too hot can damage the skin, and water that is too cold can be uncomfortable and disincentivize hand-washing.
Don’t forget to dry
“Drying hands is not optional,” Berland said. Drying removes dead skin cells as well as any bacteria or viruses that may have been missed with soap. Damp hands will more easily pick up and transfer bacteria. It’s important to dry gently to protect the skin, Berland said.
Avoid air dryers
Air dryers can spread microorganisms around the room, Berland said. While that’s not usually a problem, it presents a greater hazard in the age of COVID-19.
Sanitizer is not a soap substitute
Instead, hand sanitizer should be used when hands are already visibly clean and dry, said Berland. Sanitizer will kill bacteria and virus on hands and reduce their transmission, but if hands are visibly dirty, the dirt will protect bacteria that’s already there.
Look for this sanitizer ingredient
The FDA recommends alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol. “In general, I think alcohol is the best sanitizer ingredient,” Berland said. “Alcohol is almost always the quickest-acting and kills the most different kinds of germs.”
Be mindful about gloves
Gloves can help protect hands from heavy soiling when handling dirty or raw material, and they present a hygienic image to guests. However, they can also create a false sense of security, Berland said. Gloves can transfer bacteria from surface to surface just as effectively as bare hands, and they can make hands sweaty, creating an ideal environment for bacteria. Therefore, they should only be used for certain high-risk tasks, Berland said.
Gloves can be cleaned
Employees can wash or sanitize their gloves while wearing them, but they should be discarded once they’ve been removed, Berland said.
Consider switching up your tools
COVID-19 means that restaurants may need to shift the materials they use to clean. For instance, Berland said, restaurants should consider switching from cloth to disposable wipers to keep the virus from lingering on cleaning materials.
Handling cardboard products
In general, “Paper and cardboard are not hospitable environments for the virus to live on,” Berland said. For incoming products packaged in cardboard, staff should unpack them carefully and get the cardboard out of the kitchen ASAP. Outgoing cardboard or paper products such as to-go containers should be stored in a clean place and handled with clean hands, she said.
Keep temperature-taking private
Some restaurants are taking workers’ temperature as a precaution against COVID-19. Because these tests involve individuals’ medical information, they should be done in a private area where other employees can’t see the results, said Derek Havel, partner with law firm Sheppard Mullin, on a webinar hosted in May by the National Restaurant Association Show. For the same reason, results should be kept in confidential files rather than workers’ personnel files.
Break up break rooms
If restaurants decide to keep break rooms open, they should be set up in a way that prevents employees from congregating too close together, Havel said. This could mean removing tables and chairs or staggering breaks so there are fewer employees breaking at once. He also encouraged restaurants to allow breaks to be taken outside. “It does become more difficult if everyone can’t just plop down in the break room, but that is what we’re dealing with at this point,” he said.
Show and tell
Restaurants should be transparent with guests about what they’re doing to keep the restaurant clean and safe during COVID-19, Berland said. A survey by Technomic found that 56% of consumers want to see staff “visibly cleaning” high-touch areas. And more than three-fourths of consumers want restaurants to offer signage detailing their sanitization methods, according to research by Tork, a supplier of hygiene products.