Covid-19 and the kitchen: How to prepare for re-opening safely | Unilever Food Solutions IE

It goes without saying that the hospitality industry has been amongst the hardest hit by Covid-19 and the future facing many pubs and restaurants is uncertain. So as we embark on the road to recovery, what can operators do to maximise revenues when they reopen and tempt consumers back to eating out?

The likelihood is that consumers will require more reassurance than ever that businesses are operating in a safe and hygienic way. According to WGSN, the priority for consumers will be ‘to put health and protection first’ in a post-Covid world (1) – and as research into how long the virus lives on different surfaces is still largely in its infancy, many consumers will be unwilling to take risks.

So what can you do to ensure your operation is safe and hygienic in preparation for reopening – and beyond?

Where to start?

Where to start?

Ensuring your establishment has had a thorough clean prior to reopening is essential. Make sure you’re using good quality cleaning products and check your sanitisers contact time to ensure effective use. Consider key contact points too: light switches, cutlery, door handles – all of these areas could harbour significant levels of bacteria, yet are often ignored.

How long does the Covid-19 virus live on surfaces?

How long does the Covid-19 virus live on surfaces?

There is currently little data on how long the Covid-19 virus lives on different surfaces. The World Health Organisation notes that early studies ‘have shown that stability in the environment depends on several factors including relative temperature, humidity, and surface type’ (2). It is likely, however, that in fairly normal conditions the virus is stable on a range of materials like plastic, cardboard and steel for several days. There is currently no evidence that the virus can transmit through food.

What about hygiene in the kitchen?

Food business operators must follow existing food safety guidance and HACCP procedures. In addition, consider mandating an enhanced frequency of hand washing and cleaning, especially on areas which are touched regularly. The FSAI has extensive guidance on food safety and hygiene practices, including advice on hand washing and the use of gloves in kitchens.

Further support is also available from organisations such as Fáilte Ireland, who have issued operational guidance dedicated to specific industry sectors. Their downloadable materials provide detailed information on how to mitigate the health risks associated with Covid-19. In addition, the World Health Organisation has issued precautionary recommendations including advice on good hygiene practices during food handling and preparation. More information can be found on the WHO website.

How can you implement social distancing in restaurants?

How can you implement social distancing in restaurants?

Implementing social distancing, both front and back of house, will naturally be easier at some establishments than others. Fast-paced restaurants and those with fixed seating may find it particularly hard, whereas high-end eateries who already space their diners far apart will find it more straightforward to comply.

Back of house distancing is a challenge many establishments will find challenging, due to tight workspaces in kitchens. Consider spacing out prep where possible, keeping team members strictly dedicated to one station. The FSAI has issued the following guidance on social distancing in hospitality:

  • limit the number of staff in a kitchen or food preparation area at any one time
  • space out workstations and food preparation areas, if possible
  • limit the number of people (staff, delivery drivers, customers) who can come into your premises at any one time
  • use spacing measures (e.g. floor markers) at tills or queues, if possible
  • use a ticketing system if appropriate (3)
     

How can I show my customers that I’m doing the right things?

It’s likely that many customers will want to clearly see what health and safety measures are being put in place for their protection, so don’t be afraid of communicating your cleaning regime. Use digital and social media channels to reassure potential customers that you’re offering them a safe space to eat and enjoy great food. When they’re on site, communicate with them in person via your waiting staff – ensuring your team are fully up to speed on what you’re implementing back of house too.

As the weeks progress the government and the HSE are expected to issue more detailed guidelines on how to manage safety, hygiene and social distancing in restaurants. Fáilte Ireland’s dedicated Covid-19 support hub is also an incredibly useful source of business support for operators, along with the FSAI.

This article is part of our #StrongerTogether initiative, in partnership with FFT.ie.

Sources:

(1)   WGSN Covid 19 Food Change Accelerators, March 2020

(2)   https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-on-infection-prevention-and-control-for-health-care-workers-caring-for-patients-with-suspected-or-confirmed-2019-ncov

(3)   https://www.fsai.ie/faq/coronavirus.html