As dining rooms slowly reopen across the United States, we may see some changes in the restaurant industry due to the effects of COVID-19.
Some of these changes may include altering your seating area to allow for 6 feet of social distance between guests, asking your employees to wear masks, and doubling down on efforts to clean and sanitize high-traffic areas.
The good news is that the food safety guidelines you followed before COVID-19 are still relevant and aren’t likely to change. Bacteria still grow fastest on food in the temperature danger zone; food must still be cooked to the same recommended temperatures; and cleaning and sanitizing is still an effective way to combat cross-contamination.
Because the mechanics of food preparation, storage, and delivery remain the same, your operations in the back of the house likely won’t need many changes. The main changes may come in how your restaurant looks, as workers wear masks and customers sit farther apart, and how you manage employee illness.
Stay on top of reopening best practices and help your employees feel safe by making a reopening plan and sharing it with them. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re doing with the public as well — it will show them that you care about their well-being and help them feel comfortable bringing their families in to eat.
You may wish to include the following tips in your reopening plan. These tips are based on reopening best practices released by the CDC and the FDA. You should also check with your local health department to see if they have any area-specific recommendations.
Tip #1: Encourage employees to stay home when they’re sick
This idea isn’t new, but it touches on one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19: not all foodservice employees feel like they can stay home when they’re not feeling well. They may be worried about their manager’s reaction, receiving a smaller paycheck, or letting their coworkers down.
Managers and shift leads play a vital role in helping their employees know it’s okay to stay home if they’re sick. In fact, it’s more than okay — it’s vital. Remind your staff that staying home when they’re sick is an important part of keeping others healthy.
If employees experience any of the following symptoms, they should contact their manager before reporting to work:
Symptoms of COVID-19, including
- Difficulty breathing
Symptoms of other contagious illnesses
- Infected sores
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes)
- Sore throat with a fever
If an employee reports a symptom of COVID-19, ask them to stay home. If they report a different symptom, consult the Food Worker Illness Flowchart to know what to do.
If you have an employee test positive for COVID-19, follow the steps in our article, “My Employee Tested Positive for COVID-19, Now What?” There are a few things you need to do, including notifying the employee’s coworkers that they have been exposed to the virus.
Tip #2: Ask employees to conduct daily health checks before work
One way you can encourage staff members to stay home when they’re sick is by asking them to conduct a quick daily health check before starting work. This could be as simple as asking employees to check their temperature before their shift.
Make sure to enforce your health check policy consistently to ensure employees are doing checks regularly.
Tip #3: Remind employees to maintain good hygiene
Like staying home when you’re sick, practicing good hygiene, including hand hygiene, isn’t a new idea. COVID-19 has only underscored the importance of maintaining good hygiene.
It’s important to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds — especially after going to the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, or before eating. Handwashing is the most important personal habit that will help you be healthier and keep the things you touch cleaner.
Remind your employees when and how they should wash their hands, and teach them how to use gloves safely. Following proper handwashing and glove-wearing practices will help prevent cross-contamination and illness.
Tip #4: Discourage bare-hand contact with food
Food workers should never touch food items with their bare hands, especially ready-to eat foods. If your staff doesn’t use gloves, they should use deli tissue or utensils to prepare and serve food.
In addition to discouraging bare-hand contact, remind your employees to wash their hands frequently. The importance of proper handwashing cannot be overstated.
The CDC and FDA have both advised food workers to wear masks during work. Masks help prevent respiratory droplets from the mask wearer from spreading. This is important in preventing the spread of COVID-19 if a food worker has the disease without knowing it.
Food workers should wear a clean mask to work every day. They should wash their hands for 20 seconds after putting on their mask.
According to OSHA, cloth face masks aren’t considered PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), so you aren’t legally required to provide your employees with masks. But it’s a good idea to have some extras you can give out in case someone forgets their own.
Tip #6: Restrict the number of workers and customers to allow for social distancing
Evaluate the break room, kitchen, bar, dining area, and waiting area in your establishment. You may need to restrict the number of people who can be in each area at one time. Make it a priority to maintain 6 feet of distance between workers and customers.
In the waiting area, it’s a good idea to put temporary markers 6 feet away from each other to help your customers visualize how far away they need to stand from each other. If your waiting area is too small to accommodate everyone, you could establish a system that allows them to wait in their cars.
Other suggestions from the CDC to promote social distancing include:
- Installing physical barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions in areas where maintaining 6 feet of distance is difficult — like at the cash register
- Make sure all tables and bar stools are at least 6 feet apart
- Provide alternatives to eating in the restaurant when possible, such as drive-through, delivery, and curbside pickup
- Establish a system where dine-in customers can place their orders ahead of time, limiting how long they stay in your establishment
- Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options
If you need extra space to keep excess tables and chairs, try using a mobile storage container.
Cleaning and sanitizing a restaurant is important because of the number of people who go in and out of the establishment every single day. Before you reopen your restaurant, you should clean, disinfect, and sanitize throughout the establishment.
After reopening, you should continue to clean and sanitize regularly. In addition to keeping your work surfaces clean, make sure to clean and disinfect high-touch surface areas such as door handles, soda machines, and kiosks to help stop the spread of germs.
The FDA also recommends restaurants avoid using shared items like reusable menus, condiment bottles, and salt and pepper shakers when possible.
Tip #8: Post signs to promote protective measures
In addition to training employees on your reopening plan, it’s a good idea to post signs reminding them of the special protective measures they should be taking. Consider posting signs for your customers as well, so they understand why it’s important for them to abide by the social distancing guidelines you’ve put in place.
If you need signs, we offer a variety of posters about hygiene and COVID-19 prevention. Each resource is completely free.
Tip #9: Stay on top of food safety training
Remember, although it sometimes feels like COVID-19 has changed everything, the mechanics of food preparation, storage, and delivery remain the same. Providing food safety training to your employees, even if such training isn’t required in your area, has never been more important in helping them feel comfortable and successful in their jobs.
If you need training or you’re looking for an easier way to manage your training, we can help! Visit our Industry Solutions page to learn more about StateFoodSafety and contact us about your training needs.
— Tracy Larson and Jessica Pettit