By Alice Sinia, PhD, Quality Assurance Manager – Regulatory/Lab Services, Orkin Canada
In these unprecedented times surrounding the outbreak and rapid spread of COVID-19 on a global scale, personal and communal safety remain at the top of everyone’s concerns. With constant news updates and social media at play, there is a large amount of information spreading rapidly – some of which is incorrect. This can be confusing, misleading, and stressful to the general population. As a restaurant owner or manager, it is imperative that your staff is educated with accurate information on the virus, as well as clear guidelines on how to keep themselves safe while providing people with an essential service.
To date, COVID-19 is not known as transmissible to humans through food, food-packaging materials, or from pests. When it comes to food safety in food-handling facilities, we already take many sanitation precautions. The existing Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) that are meant to keep the transmission of pathogens at bay can play a crucial role here as well.
With COVID-19, it’s time to vigorously elevate the already existing GMP – by practising thorough personal hygiene and sanitation. The goal is to protect and preserve food packaging and handling, while preventing human-to-human transmission. Therefore, the GMP approach to combating the COVID-19 in a restaurant offering delivery services should be focused on three areas.
Food preparation and handling areas
This environment typically has very large and open surface areas that can easily be cross contaminated with the virus if used by an affected employee. These areas include preparation counters, serving counters, cooking utensils and accessories, doorknobs, appliance handles, faucet handles, employee lunchrooms, lockers, and restrooms. Steps to help lower the risk from these areas include:
- Eliminate or reduce clutter on counter tops and in the kitchen. Leave out only necessary appliances and accessories; this will reduce and eliminate potential virus harbourage areas, and it allows for proper sanitation and disinfecting of surfaces.
- Use commercial-strength disinfectant to sanitize surfaces. Focus on doorknobs and handles that are touched most frequently by your staff. Prepare a sanitizing schedule based on staff flow or shift change at defined time intervals. Having a disinfecting chart and checklist will ensure your process is consistent and no surfaces are missed. It’s also important to limit the number of outside people entering the kitchen and building.
- Wash and clean kitchen accessories and appliances after each use and wipe it down again immediately prior to use.
- Use delivery windows or doors for incoming shipments. Wear gloves and sanitize surfaces of packages prior to moving them into the kitchen or storage; immediately wash hands after handling. Remember to practice social distancing even when receiving incoming shipments. Per the federal government’s recommendations, social distancing is at least two metres between each person.
- Limit the number of staff in the kitchen at any given time. If it is a high-volume kitchen environment, put in place a distanced working space policy.
- If possible, use touchless garbage receptacles – this can be sensor cans or leaving bins open.
Focusing on your staff is crucial to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Compliance based in education is a long-term solution, so it is crucial you educate your staff on the facts of the virus and how to avoid transmitting it.
- Have a company-tailored COVID-19 policy and guidelines, and make sure every staff member understands it.
- Ensure your staff is trained on health and safety guidelines on COVID-19. Training should not be in person, but can be via a notice posting, internal communications, or virtual sessions.
- Remind and re-enforce guidelines and good hygiene practices through strategically placed infographics; these can be found through respective provincial governments.
- Encourage and re-enforce staff to wash hands often. Regular and proper hand washing so far has proven to be the most effective preventive measure against the virus; be sure to wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
- The next best defence is physical distancing from other people. Based on scientific evidence, the recommended and federal government guideline is two metres between people at all times.
- Advise employees to stay home if they are not feeling well.
- Monitor any behavioural changes in your staff due to mental or emotional stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 situation so that you may be able to help them as soon as possible.
During delivery or takeout, your staff are likely to come in contact with many people at different locations. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid physical contact with customers. The risk of transmission is highest during the exchange of payment and food containers. To reduce potential contact during those times:
- Encourage or require pre-payments by credit card. Transactions should be done and completed over the phone or other electronic means.
- Prior to delivery, advise customers that food will be left on doorsteps or wherever customers specify for them to pick-up. The delivery staff should notify customers of delivery and wait at least two metres away until the customer retrieves the food.
- Avoid ringing doorbells or knocking on doors; call or text customers to notify them of the delivery.
- If your staff has to physically deliver the food, the staff should immediately sanitize hands and any surfaces that they touch after completing their delivery. Once back at the restaurant, they should thoroughly wash their hands immediately before touching anything else.
By implementing proper hygiene and government recommended protocols, reducing the likelihood of exposure and transmission amongst your restaurant staff becomes a less daunting task. Be sure to remind employees of proper protocols to keep them top of mind and to listen to their concerns during this critical time.
Alice Sinia is the quality assurance manager of regulatory/lab services for Orkin Canada focusing on government regulations pertaining to the pest control industry. With more than 20 years of experience, she manages the quality assurance laboratory for Orkin Canada and performs analytical entomology as well as provides technical support in pest/insect identification to branch offices and clients. For more information, email Alice at email@example.com or visit www.orkincanada.com.