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Pandemic Dining: What you need to know

As COVID-19 raises alarm across the country, fears about sharing meals in public are escalating by the day. Though much of the concern stems from buffets and dine-in restaurants, many people have found themselves wary of utilizing credit card touch screens and condiment shakers, afraid they may be contaminated with the virus. Diners are reassessing their relationship with sit-down eateries and fast-food drive thrus, leading owners and operators to become hyper-aware of customer concerns and attempt to head them off by implementing new procedures and tightening up on existing ones.

Check out these tips to help navigate your dining experience during this time:

Flexibility

According to health professionals, the current Coronavirus situation is in a state of flux. Individuals should stay informed in order to make the best choices for themselves and their families and heed the most up-to-date advice from the CDC. At this point in time, the CDC is advising high risk persons (those with underlying conditions, those over 60, and those with compromised immune systems) to avoid crowds, especially in areas known for outbreaks. Though social distancing has yet to be officially recommended for the general public, many are taking precautions by keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from others, making some dining establishments safer than other spaces such as public transportation or busy bars.

Eateries Are Cracking Down

Viruses cannot grow in or on food, but a sick food handler could contaminate a meal, making it a great time for restaurants to review their employee health policy and reeducate employees about when to stay home or report symptoms to management. Surfaces one encounters in a restaurant setting remain a significant risk factor. Based on this, many operators are directing their organizations to pay particular attention to wiping down things like menus, utensils, tablecloths, and shakers.  Overall, diners can take comfort in knowing that many restaurants have a long-standing practice of consistent commitment to food safety and sanitation standards with decades of protocols already in place.

Nonetheless, restaurants and food manufacturers are implementing enhanced methods to fend off potential contamination. Operators at McDonald’s have increased the number of hand sanitizer dispensers available at each location, ensured that all trays, tables, and chairs are disinfected after each use, increased the frequency of sanitizing high-touch surfaces like doors and touch screens, and increased awareness of sick employees, urging them to stay home. Many food service establishments have not only increased the frequency of sanitation but have met with the cleaning services they employ to ensure they are cleaning to appropriate standards. Some buffet locations are even offering the option of wrapped take-home meals considering concerns related to contact with fellow buffet goers.

Though health officials maintain that Coronavirus does not appear to be transmitted via food directly, one of the biggest concerns for diners remains sick food service workers. To combat this concern, companies like the National Restaurant Association have taken preemptive actions, holding meetings with their staff and creating plans for how to deal with workers showing any signs of flu-like symptoms. Aside from notifying all employees to stay home when sick, workers are instructed to alert managers of coworkers and customers who appear to be ill. Because patrons may also be carriers of the virus, it is recommended that restaurants offer guests hand sanitizer and tissues. Above all, diners and employees alike are advised to wash their hands frequently rather than to simply avoid touching items.

Bring The Food To You

Due to the CDC’s recommendation for high-risk individuals to limit exposure to populated locations and “consider ways of getting food brought to your house”, food delivery companies like Postmates have introduced the option of “no contact” delivery, allowing food to be dropped off at doorsteps rather than handed directly to customers. While this method still comes with a chance of contaminated packaging, it presents a safer solution for those looking to avoid the potential risk of crowded areas. Likewise, many large grocery store chains also offer delivery options that can help customers avoid congested aisles and lines.

The Bottom Line – Ask

Diners with reservations related to the measures a restaurant is taking to prevent contamination should speak with a manager. Ask workers to wipe down high-contact items for your own peace of mind and inquire as to what disinfectants are used in the kitchen. Managers of competent, vigilant locations will be able to advise you of all precautionary steps taken to keep you safe and virus-free.

If your food establishment could benefit from additional education, ensuring the safety of your customers during this critical time, Avert is here to support you. Our thorough assessments, corrective actions, preventive programs, and team training provide your company comprehensive safeguarding, so you can run your business with confidence.

Contact Avert FSA for more information.

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Matthew McClure provides sound strategies that instill cost-effective methods for building robust food safety, operational and quality assurance programs. Along with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Microbiology from The University of Akron and an MBA in Finance from Louisiana State University, Matthew brings over 20 years of experience in the food safety industry to AVERT Food Safety Advisors. His knowledge spans many areas including FDA food processing facilities, USDA meat and poultry plants, dietary supplement manufacturers, retail, cannabis manufacturing, and food service operations.

Contact us for more information:

info@avertfoodsafety.com | Tel: +1 702.706.6574

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