As you all know, the food service industry has been deeply affected by Covid and we need to make sure that we reopen safely and effectively. As operators in the most densely-packed city in the country, all eyes are on us, the stakes are as high as can be, and for many of us, our livelihoods are literally on the line. I’ve prepared this guide to assist you all through the phases of reopening and beyond. As you are aware, NYC will be opening in phases, which have been outlined by the State. We are in Phase One now. And although proper restaurant dining is not until Phase Three, the outdoor dining piece is in Phase Two, which we hope happens within the next week or so.
Lets look at what we need to do to make sure that our restaurants are safe and will provide the customers with a feeling of security. To do this, we need to make changes to the physical premise, implement social or physical distancing, ensure that basic food safety measures are taken and implement more rigorous cleaning and disinfecting procedures are followed.
PHYSICAL/SOCIAL DISTANCING IS A MUST
Dining areas need to be reviewed and reconfigured, with tables moved six feet apart or partitions installed on the sides of the tables, to enable proper distancing. (see attached photos)
OTHER OPERATING RESTRICTIONS TO BE AWARE OF
The number of customers at any one time should not exceed 50% of the normal seating capacity of the premises of a restaurant business – at least not at first. And it’s crucial to abide by this. If things go off without a hitch, we can see 50% become 75%, 90% and potentially 100% in short order. If we don’t abide by these rules, and problems arise, 50% (or less) might be here to stay for longer than most of us can endure.
Additionally, no more than four people may be seated together at one table, to start. When this number gets increased depends entirely on how we do with this opening restriction. Be patient, and the strictures will loosen quickly.
People within any catering premises/area must wear masks except when eating and drinking. I know, it’s cumbersome, but again, the theme here is be patient and do this right, and the restrictions will be relaxed
I recommend the installation of UV filters on your HVAC system. These have been used in the healthcare world since the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and have proven to be effective with killing all bacteria and viruses that are in the air. UV Filters have proven to be effective against Covid 19 as well. I understand that this is an extra expense, when money is no doubt tighter than usual, but it appears to be a worthwhile investment, if your interest is getting your restaurant’s capacity up ASAP. This is not a requirement, but certainly a recommendation to consider.
HEALTH & SAFETY GUIDELINES
LET YOUR STAFF AND YOUR CUSTOMERS KNOW THAT THEIR HEATH AND SAFETY IS YOUR TOP PRIORITY
Guests will be more sensitive to sanitization than they ever were in the past. Surfaces, uniforms and staff must be clean at all times and it is a good thing to let the guests observe your staff sanitizing the establishment on a regular basis.
- Walk through the establishment to see what changes and/or improvements need to be made to increase food safety;
- Implement a pre-work screening (health check) for employees at the beginning of each shift, which may include temperature checks;
- Do not allow staff on-site if they are sick or might be sick; they should return home or stay home;
- Establish a clear policy for what is expected of workers if they get sick, have symptoms, or if an exposure is reported at the restaurant or store in accordance with your employee handbook (which should be updated to include COVID-specific sections) and appropriate labor laws;
- Provide separate lockers or sealed bins/bags for employees to store their personal items. Do not allow staff to leave any items overnight;
- Limit the number of employees allowed simultaneously in break areas to allow for physical/social distancing;
- With larger staffs, use communication boards or digital messaging to convey pre-shift meeting information;
- Review hours of operation to decrease the number of customers trying to obtain food at peak times;
- Reengineer the food preparation and production areas to ensure appropriate social distancing and compliance with new standard operating procedures (SOPs);
- Discontinue the use of air hand dryers in the rest rooms. Use paper towels. Have sanitizer readily available;
- Develop SOPs for all cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Ensure that you are including the customer service areas and high hand contact surfaces that are often excluded;
- Non food contact surfaces and high touch areas should also be disinfected. Make sure that you use a blue bucket for disinfectant as you do not want your staff to confuse it with sanitizer. Areas such as the customer side of the counter or the service stations need to be disinfected or sanitized often and the customers should observe this.
- Identify all high hand contact areas and develop a sanitizing and disinfecting schedule;
- Develop SOPs for all other systems and procedures to ensure improved safety;
- Train employees on these policies and monitor compliance. Daily Training should be implemented with appropriate social distancing;
- Management is accountable for employees following the new SOPs to ensure a safe working environment for employees and customers;
- Reengineer the receiving process to decrease unnecessary traffic in the kitchen and other food preparation and storage areas;
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
- Use of PPE should be in accordance with CDC recommendations and state mandates;
- Physical distancing of six feet is always the first choice for protection from other staff or customers. Staff must wear masks at all times;
- Employees should be reminded not to touch their faces.
- Proper hand hygiene is recommended. If gloves are required, avoid cross-contamination, and do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth;
- Operators may want to consider wearing gloves when asked by customers, however, it is not mandated by the CDC;
- Disposable gloves must be changed as frequently to avoid cross-contamination, such as when:
– Handling ready-to-eat food
– When changing tasks
– When discarding waste or recycling
– When they are soiled, dirty, or torn
- Wash hands thoroughly before wearing the first pair of gloves, when changing gloves wash hands before wearing the next pair;
- Be careful of the misuse of gloves, which can give workers a false sense of security and can actually spread viruses and bacteria when not used correctly;
- Explain the use and misuse of gloves to customers if necessary
MARKETING FOOD SAFETY
Customer confidence and perception of safety is paramount to the success of a food service operation during reopening and operation in the post-Covid-19 world. Operators need to make sure that their customers are aware of the steps that they are taking to protect them. This is the time to market yourselves as the safest places to eat.
- Post signage letting your customers know what you are doing to ensure their safety;
- Employees should be neat and clean, in full uniform with plastic aprons, masks, face shields/masks and gloves. They must be in full compliance with NYCDOHMH §81.13 at all times;
- Employees should be observed on the food line taking and recording temperatures as per training;
- Employees should be observed cleaning and sanitizing customer service areas to allay concerns for customers;
- A camera in the kitchen and viewing in the dining room is a great way to let the customers know that they are safe and that you are proud of food safety. (of course, you must ensure that all rules are followed);
- Managers, appropriately attired, should be visible in the customer seating area to discuss what is being done by your organization to ensure that the establishment is clean and sanitary;
- Written materials, e-mail, or other social media should be used to communicate with your customers and potential customers;
- Post or provide CDC information on face mask, hand washing etc. for customer review;
- All social medial or photographs must show staff in full compliance with NYCDOHMH §81.13;
§81.13. Food workers: health; hygienic practices. All food workers shall use hygienic practices and maintain personal cleanliness.
(a) Work restriction. No person shall work or shall be knowingly or negligently permitted to work in a food service establishment while afflicted with a boil or infected wound and unless he or she is free from acute, infectious diarrhea, amebiasis, cholera, cryptosporidiosis, diphtheria, E. coli 0157:H7, giardiasis, hepatitis A, poliomyelitis, salmonellosis, shigellosis, streptococcal sore throat (including scarlet fever), superficial staphylococcal infection, tuberculosis, typhoid, or yersiniosis and is not a carrier of organisms causing the above conditions or other disease listed in §11.03 in a communicable form and unless the period of isolation or exclusion prescribed by Article 11 of this Code has ended.
(b) Hair restraints. Food workers shall wear caps, hats, hair nets or other hair coverings to effectively keep hair from contaminating food or food contact surfaces. This requirement shall not apply to counter staff, bartenders, baristas, hosts or wait staff when they are preparing or serving beverages or serving food. (c) Clothing. All food workers shall wear clean, washable outer garments when starting work and shall replace such garments with clean clothing as often as necessary thereafter to prevent contamination of food or food contact surfaces from soiled or contaminated clothing.
(d) Hand washing. Food workers and other employees shall wash hands and exposed areas of arms thoroughly with soap and water before starting work and as often as necessary to remove soil and any substance that might lead to contamination. Thereafter, hands shall be washed thoroughly after using the toilet, smoking, or using electronic cigarettes, sneezing, coughing, eating, drinking or when otherwise soiling hands before returning to work. When gloves are used as a barrier to protect ready-to-eat food from bare hand contact, hands shall be washed before gloves are put on.
(e) Fingernails. Food workers shall keep their fingernails trimmed, filed, and maintained so the edges and surfaces are cleanable and not rough, and unless wearing intact gloves in good repair, shall not wear fingernail polish or artificial fingernails when working with exposed food.
(f) Jewelry. Except for medical alert bracelets or a ring that is smooth and without crevices, such as a wedding band, food workers may not wear jewelry on their arms or hands.
(g) Smoking. Food workers shall not smoke any substance, use tobacco in any form or use electronic cigarettes in any indoor or outdoor area of the premises used by a food service establishment.
20 (h) Eating and drinking. Food workers shall not eat or drink in food preparation or other areas where food, equipment, and utensils may be exposed to contamination, except that a food worker may drink from beverages in closed containers.
(I) No spitting allowed. Spitting anywhere in the establishment is prohibited.
- Increase café hours to avoid a rush of customers at one time; i.e., instead of closing at 9:30 for breakfast, stay open until 10:30 while setting up some lunch areas;
- Self-service stations should be eliminated. At the present time this means the elimination of salad bars and buffets. All food needs to be protected at all times;
- Use prepackaged items; bulk item delivery systems should be contactless;
- Do not put utensils and or condiments on tables. Deliver when customer sits down so that they know that the utensils are clean and sanitized. They also need to know that the salt shaker, sugar container etc. are disinfected between customers. Return to single service pre-packaged utensils if possible;
- Don’t touch water glasses or coffee cups when refilling;
- Use disposable menus so that you do not have to sanitize in between customers;
- Eliminate or expand interior waiting area if possible;
- Increase use of grab-and-go items, to allow your customers to quickly enter and exit crowded areas, if applicable;
- Reduce queuing, increase social distancing, and control traffic flow (perhaps through a new reservation system) while increasing visual branding and new concepts;
- Implement customer ordering via an application on their computer/cell phone so that they can pick up when ready, as opposed to waiting on [or near] site;
- You will need to decrease the time that customers spend seated at the tables since table turns will increase your revenue. Make sure that you sanitize tables in between guests and possibly offer dessert to go;
- Identify the high hand contact hand contact surfaces in the kitchen and dining area such as refrigerator doors and handles, drawers, light switches, and oven knobs; these areas are often overlooked and must be disinfected /sanitized on a frequent basis;
- Increase the cleaning frequency of high hand contact surfaces with a disinfectant; these surfaces include self-order kiosks and other touch screen machines, door handles, display cases, countertops, tabletops and chairs, sneeze guards, and utensil stations. The cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces should be increased during peak times. (Recommended every 30 to 60 minutes);
- Beverage dispensers are often high hand contact surfaces and should be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis; the machines, including the nozzles, should be sanitized at the end of each shift;
- On a temporary basis, consider individual bottled beverages;
- Strongly encourage hand washing; employees should wash hands more frequently and more thoroughly than usual;
- Install portable hand washing sinks and sanitizing stations at the entrance to cafés and in food preparation areas;
- Consider moving to single use aprons to reduce the potential for cross contamination; staff should remove and dispose of aprons each time they leave food prep areas, which will also decrease the wiping of hands on the apron;
- Staff must wear masks (and beard covers where appropriate) or face shields;
- Consider a non-contact payment system to reduce the spread of viruses, pathogens, and bacteria;
- Review the layout and construction of the operation and install partitions between the customer and the employee when possible;
- Review sneeze guards and increase number if needed in order to protect from contamination;
- Wrap unprotected foods that are currently under or behind sneeze guards; this would include bagels, pastries, and fresh fruit. Clam shells or clear/paper bags will decrease handling;
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Things have been hard enough already for the hospitality industry, as we’re all just struggling to get through this and get back to “normal.” Please be smart, be patient, and be vigilant. I know that’s easier said than done, but this game is truly for all of the marbles. If you don’t operate in compliance, someone gets sick and they trace it back to you, it’s over. Nobody wants to be “restaurant zero,” as there may not be any coming back from that.
Hopefully you’ve found my piece helpful and informative. If you have any questions on the above or you need further assistance, please feel free to contact me directly:
(347) 654-4690 email@example.com
Just a little last minute add on, I was in Florida this past weekend and the restaurants are open, people are eating in them, and most of the above recommendations have been implemented. Social distancing is present, paper menus are being used, nothing beginning on the tables, utensils provided when you sit down, and there is 6 feet between tables. There is minimal staff “touching”, instead they have trays where you pick up your own beverages and food etc. And many of them have installed UV filters and Plexiglass barriers!!
We New Yorkers have an unparalleled resilience to us – and us hospitality folks are even tougher still. I know we’ll get through this. Stay safe everyone and good luck.
Better Call Beth
Food Safety Design and Protection