The whole planet is now facing a threat that 2 years ago we could not even imagine. During the coronavirus pandemic, control over the hygiene and safety of workers and visitors to any public places comes to the fore. Of course, the pandemic has greatly affected the hospitality industry. In the new working conditions, restaurants and cafés have to adapt quickly to constantly changing restrictions and regulations. Food business owners have a lot of questions about working during the pandemic, and in this blog post we will try to answer some of them.
Can COVID-19 be transmitted by food or food packaging?
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food or food packaging. The WHO believes that further investigation is needed into the origin and spread of COVID-19, including any possible role of frozen food and packaging.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that spreads from person to person. Research has shown that the virus is inactivated in the acidic environment of the stomach and is unlikely to enter the gastrointestinal tract and cause disease. You can read more about this study here:
The main risk of transmission of infection occurs in close contact with infected people. The best approach is to practice social distancing and constantly follow the rules of personal hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water and avoid touching your face to reduce the risk of infection.
Food packaging does not pose a particular risk of transmission of infection. So far, no cases of infection with COVID-19 from food or food packaging are known. But if it bothers you, surfaces can be disinfected with common household disinfectants, such as alcohol-based disinfectant or bleach.
To prepare food before eating, use the following recommendations, which were valid also before the pandemic:
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before serving.
- The WHO recommends that foods such as meat, poultry and eggs should always be carefully cooked; raw animal products should be handled carefully to avoid cross-contamination; and the meat of sick animals should not be eaten.
In Australia, all meat sold is subject to strict control. These include requirements prohibiting the use of meat and offal of sick animals for human consumption. It is unlikely that you need to take extra precautions regarding meat in Australia to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
How to prevent infection in a restaurant?
To minimize the transmission of the virus in a restaurant or café, it is necessary to provide a number of measures, including:
- regular handwashing;
- cleaning and sanitizing facilities and equipment;
- ensuring any workers with any related symptoms do not attend work and get tested right away;
- maintaining strict requirements around worker health and hygiene;
- implementing social distancing of at least 1.5m.
What needs to be clean?
- All utensils for eating and drinking;
- All food contact surfaces;
- All general surfaces such as door and refrigerator handles, tap handles, switches, glass touchscreens and other high-touch areas.
Food handlers should take all possible measures to prevent contamination of food and the processing environment. To do this, employees must provide personal hygiene and regular handwashing.
Check if you are following the Australian Government Guidelines for routine environmental cleaning on the Department of Health website. (https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-information-about-routine-environmental-cleaning-and-disinfection-in-the-community)
How to cope with the pandemic by working in take-away food and food delivery businesses?
All the usual requirements for the food business to produce safe food remain in place. However, there are several additional requirements for a delivery business. In addition to providing personal hygiene measures, social distancing and wearing masks and protective gloves, it is also recommended:
- Avoid shaking hands and do not touch the face;
- Put takeaway products on the table or counter to avoid additional touching;
- In the case of delivery to the customer’s home, there is a need to leave the order on the door handle or in front of the door, as well as make payments using contactless payment methods;
- Delivery staff should avoid touching unnecessary objects, door handles, handrails, bell buttons and other things. They also must change gloves in a timely manner.
How to avoid infecting employees during a pandemic?
In order not to endanger the health of your employees, follow these recommendations:
- Encourage employees to follow the rules of personal hygiene, provide employees with soaps, sanitizers, paper towels;
- Divide the staff into teams and assign them different work shifts to avoid people contacting each other in case of a coronavirus infection, fewer people would need to be quarantined;
- Make sure that the delivery staff do not have access to the kitchen, and vice versa; do everything possible to establish fewer contact between employees;
- Encourage social distancing between employees of at least 1.5 m. This includes team meetings, workstations, production lines, picking rotations, smoking areas, lunch, break and change rooms;
- Try to hold workshops and important conversations by phone or video conferences.
What to do if staff have symptoms, or test positive for COVID-19?
If your employee has any symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, shortness of breath, then the employee should be immediately suspended from work. This is an important requirement for the protection of public health. It is necessary to check employees daily for the presence of such symptoms, and then send them home or recommend to stay there.
If the diagnosis of COVID-19 is confirmed, the employee must follow the recommendations of his public health authority. The employee will not be able to work until full recovery. A public health official will conduct a detailed interview with an infected person to determine the circle of casual and close contact.
Businesses must work with their local public health authority to help rapidly trace any close contacts of an infected employee to minimize further risk of spread. Close contacts will be asked to remain at home at the direction of public health authorities for 14 days.
Even if the employee does not have any symptoms of COVID-19, they should be in isolation until the test results are received. Only the treating GP or public health authority can decide on the admission of an employee to work.
Compliance with all the recommendations above will reduce the risk of virus transmission in your restaurant or café, protect your employees and customers from this terrible disease. By fulfilling these simple requirements, together we will be able to overcome the pandemic and save the lives of many people.