Before COVID-19, employee training on well established standards for cleaning, cooking, hygiene, separation, and monitoring was the bedrock for food safety in the fast casual business. Proper employee supervision and management can mitigate cases of Norovirus, Salmonella, and E. coli. With the coronavirus, however, measures to mitigate contact with other humans are crucial as well.
The temperature, PH levels and moisture of food can affect its ability to transmit biological hazards. While gastrointestinal illnesses can easily spread through food, there have been no foodborne COVID-19 cases because its transmission relies on air droplets from the respiratory system. Nevertheless, the FDA says that COVID-19 can remain on packaging and equipment if someone sneezes or coughs, which can then spread to others if they touch the same surface along with their mouth or face.
Herein lies the real challenge. Namely, how can you be certain that all employees are using hand sanitizer or proper handwashing procedures and taking the necessary social distancing precautions while working the back of house? Restaurant businesses yield inconsistent human nature, high employee turnover, and language barriers. These factors, when coupled with disparate operations across multiple stores, inevitably cause the system to break down.
Brands should not expect consistency in quality and safety across multiple locations without investments in modern tools. Dependence on a global and local food supply, advances in scientific detection, consumer expectations, media influence, litigation, and new regulations all point to the need to invest in and build a food safety culture.
We have four building blocks in mind for protecting your staff and guests from COVID-19:
Every person in your restaurant should be following the same procedures when they are working or interacting with front and back of house. This means listing proper hand washing steps near sinks and going beyond standard food industry regulations to prevent foodborne illness and cross-contamination. According to the FDA, team members should practice social distancing when possible, and restaurant operators should look into changing their operations to make staying six feet apart easier in the back of house.
Here are other tips from OSHA for training workers on COVID-19 specific procedures:
- Include these guidelines on using personal protective equipment (PPE)
- If workers are likely to be exposed to blood or other bodily fluids during cleaning, follow these guidelines on bloodborne pathogens
- Don’t forget to consider these guidelines for chemical hazards in the workplace
Reach Out For Help
In these uncertain times, no one has all of the answers – which is why the FDA is encouraging restaurant operators to email the FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center if they run into issues with their supply chain, getting goods delivered to their restaurant, or staying in business. The FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network will continue to handle all incidents related to non-COVID-19 foodborne illnesses.
Maintain Your Records
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires by law that restaurant brands provide 2 years of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) records, which is a system of managing biological, chemical and physical hazards at every stage of development for a food product from procurement to consumption.
Digital Ordering Technology
Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures through the use of extensive and dynamic procedures to avoid food safety hazards and illness outbreaks. In the wake of COVID-19, it can also help your guests order using their smartphones instead of using your restaurant’s own equipment.