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NRA updates COVID-prevention guidelines for restaurants

The best practices address such additional areas as ventilation and the latest scientific indications on wearing masks.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The National Restaurant Association has updated its guidelines for the safe operation of restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic, with new information addressing what health experts have learned from the first seven months of the crisis about ventilation, mask usage and restarting dine-in service after exclusively offering takeout and delivery.

A whole section was added on lessening the chances of COVID-19 being spread through aerosol transmission or contamination from undetectable virus-bearing micro-droplets that can float in the air for hours. The scientific community is still assessing the potential risk posed in indoor settings such as a restaurant dining room. “While the issue has yet to be settled to-date, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends that every restaurant follow these steps,” the association’s new guidelines explain.

Those measures stress the importance of conducting routine maintenance and service checks to ensure systems designed to move or filter ambient air are working as intended. They also advise restaurants to keep the fans of their HVAC systems running continuously to keep the air moving, and that establishments set their controls to prevent humidity and the warmth that can sustain pathogens.

The new guidelines also cover what experts advise on wearing face masks. The recommendations do not extend to requiring guest to wear face masks as a condition of entry or being served. In instances where those measures are not required by state or local safety directives, “consider requiring waitstaff to wear face coverings,” the association advises.

In addition, “encourage guests to wear face coverings everywhere on premises except when eating and drinking, especially when they have contact with restaurant staff,” the guidelines state. “Post this request on your website and on restaurant signage.” Some jurisdictions now require consumers to wear the mask at all times except when actually chewing or sipping, and to have their nose and mouth covered when giving their order or otherwise interacting with a server.non-

Gloves are recommended for bussers and other employees who handle tabletop items used by guests, such as plates and utensils, as well as for staff members who bag and dispose of trash. Those individuals should be expected to wash their hands when they remove the gloves, and operators are advised to teach staffers how to put on and remove the hand coverings in a safe manner.

One section reviews the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on monitoring employees’ health and allowing staff members exposed to COVID-19 to resume working. For instance, it advises closing down the section of the restaurant where an employee suspected of carrying the coronavirus had worked. But “try to wait 24 hours before you clean, sanitize and disinfect, or for as long as possible within 24 hours,” the guidelines state. A reason was not provided.

The update also covers a few steps that operators should take when they reopen dining rooms. For instance, “take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (drinking fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water.”

The best practices are boiled down into a 10-page guide, with most of the information presented in the form of checklists.

A copy can be downloaded here for free

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