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March 18, 2020

10 points to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in food service

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety, COVID-19

COVID-19 is serious. Given the prevailing posture of caution in many industries, it's important to spotlight more focus on the food service industry and any industry where food handling is conducted.

It is a communicable disease. It is very contagious and can spread easily from person to person. Have a plan to institute with your workers and provide guidelines to follow. It's equally important to have unified procedures as there are many. By putting forth a comprehensive plan, it will sync all workers onto common practices and may further be used as policy.

Dennis Keith is the founder and owner of Food Safety Nation and Respro Food Safety. "Maintaining a healthy workforce is the most important priority for every food service operation," says Keith. "If you don’t have a healthy staff, then you can’t run an effective operation. Only one sick employee can spread the illness to other staff and customers and ultimately cripple the business."

Here are ten points to focus on and serve as working guidelines to help the incidence of COVID-19 and its exposure. They may serve as a minimal plan which can be further added to, and built upon, for workers to begin following immediately:


1. Implement social distancing measures.

Social distancing has emerged as the number one priority in limiting the spread. Food service establishments may accomplish this by cutting guest capacity and moving seating, tables, and counters farther away from each other if they are still open.

Alter schedules to reduce mixing. Limit programs with external staff. Consider having employees stay in facility and limit exposure to the general community, and if possible, record temperature and respiratory symptom screening of attendees, staff, and visitors. Implement short-term closures as needed for cleaning and contact tracing.


2. Wash your hands thoroughly and often.

You've heard this over and over again, but it is one of the most effective ways to cut the risk of spread, transmission, and contamination greatly. When washing your hands, follow the procedures that hospital surgeons use.

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold)
  • Turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.
  • Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Begin to spread the soap by grabbing and rotating your close hand around each thumb. Do this to each thumb.
  • Then put each hand on top of the other from the top, interlocking fingers. Then repeat interlocking fingers palm to palm. Scrub and move hands for at least twenty seconds - or the duration of the song "happy birthday."
  • Then rinse and dry with a paper towel (preferably not a cloth towel) or use an air dryer.
  • Exit the hand washing area without touching if possible.


The CDC recommends that if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.


3. Enforce a strict employee sick policy.

Employees should be warned about not coming to work if they have any symptoms that resemble even the common cold, fever, coughing, sore throat, or related symptoms.

"All restaurants should have a solid sick employee policy," says Keith. " Sick employees should stay home, and restaurant owners and managers should not allow sick employees to work. No one should work with flu-like symptoms for at least 7 days after symptoms subside. Employees who have been sick also shouldn’t return to work until they’re free of symptoms for at least 7 days."


4. Wear gloves.

Disposable gloves should be worn at all times when handling food and cleaning equipment. Wash hands, per the previously described guidelines, at every glove change. It's also recommended to wear disposable gloves - especially when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning.

If it's only possible to wear reusable gloves, reserve those gloves only for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. Do not use them for other purposes. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfection products used for any hazards they may pose to human health. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.


5. Sanitize all workspaces.

Sanitize all prep and storage areas regularly. Have a sanitizer bucket in each area that’s used to sanitize surfaces between tasks. You should clean first, then sanitize.

  • First clean storage areas, surface prep areas, and all areas where food or people come in direct contact. Then sanitize.
  • Sanitizing involves using chemicals - such as quaternary ammonia or chlorine. Additionally, apply heat - 165° F or hotter - to reduce harmful organisms on surfaces and equipment.


The EPA had compiled a list of approved disinfectants for the SARS CoV-2 virus here: [https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2]


6. Ensure customers are not sick and take safe precautions as well.

"Infected customers may not know they are sick and contagious when entering your restaurant," says Keith. "It just takes one infected person to compromise the health and well-being of other customers and employees. At the very least, employee hand washing and strict sanitizing of customer areas are the best line of defense against a sick customer. Everything customers come in contact with can be a vehicle for disease transmission."

Encourage customers to wash hands before and after patronizing a food establishment. No customer with a fever or illness should be in or around areas where food is served or prepared.


7. Clean, sanitize, and control the handling of all objects within a food service environment.

Clean and sanitize door handles, railings, order stations, restrooms, and self-serve beverage stations regularly. Employees must wash hands after contact with these items.


8. Be vigilant of food shipments and their storage.

While food itself is not believed to be a source of transmission, surfaces in and around such food, and the workers who come in contact with such areas, may potentially be a source.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is currently no evidence that food or food packaging is associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, they say, that like other viruses it's possible the virus responsible for COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. Thus, they recommend 4 key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.


9. Beware of false information.

Tap water is safe. Sewage and wastewater are not known sources of COVID –19 virus transmission.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the, “presence of the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies and based on current evidence the risk to water supplies is low.” The EPA says that boiling your water is not required as a precaution against COVID-19.

Treat sewage and wastewater as usual. According to WHO, “there is no evidence to date that COVID-19 virus has been transmitted via sewage systems, with or without wastewater treatment.”


10. Impose prevention and health safety plans and communicate with workers and patrons.

Plans and policies should remain in place for some time. A discernible vaccine appears to be a longer way off - perhaps a year or more.

"These coronavirus prevention plans will need to stay in place for at least that long," says Keith. "Having an effective, flexible plan will keep your customers and staff safe and confident that your restaurant is a safe place to visit. This in turn will ensure the health and well-being of the business. As coronavirus spreads, it will become more of a priority to establish and maintain aggressive employee illness and sanitizing practices. Stay ahead of the outbreak and implement your plan now."


Mitigating COVID-19 and preventing its spread, is a work in motion. The best offense is a good defense.

Instilling structure and oversight into your food service and handling with appropriate standard operating procedures (SOPs) such as these, represent best practices to achieve mitigation and control. SmartSense offers a digital food safety and employee execution platform to aid in the roll out and management of these 10 protocols, as well as new and effective recommendations as they become available.


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