Although relief is on the horizon with the distribution of the first round of vaccines, bar and restaurant owners are anxious to resume operations and bounce back after the catastrophic blow dealt by Covid-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released guidance for food service operators as they reopen. Additional guidance has been released by The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) as well as the National Restaurant Association. In this article, Drip Hydration explores restaurant reopening guidelines and what they mean for you.
Understanding Covid-19 transmission
In order to understand why the restaurant reopening guidelines work, you must first understand how the virus primarily spreads. According to the CDC, Covid-19 spreads through respiratory droplets formed when infected people breathe, speak or sing, sneeze, and cough. Uninfected people are typically exposed to the virus by inhaling the droplets, or by touching a surface contaminated by droplets and subsequently touching their own eyes, nose, or mouth.
Best practices for food stores, restaurants, and pickup/delivery services
The FDA best practices guidelines for food service industries are based around 4 primary areas: managing employee health, employee personal hygiene, operations management for food service or retail, and managing food pick-up and delivery.
1. Managing employee health (including contracted workers)
Preventative measures are key in reducing transmission of Covid-19. Here are some highlights of measures you can take to stop the spread:
- Pre-screening and self-monitoring: Prescreens can be done by the employer in the form of temperature checks and symptom assessment prior to beginning work. Employees can also self-screen for symptoms each day prior to going to work. Employers who want to have pre-screening oversight should considering screening employees virtually while they are still at home
- Enhanced sanitation: Disinfect work spaces more frequently, especially high touch surfaces
- Mask wearing and social distancing: Staff at all levels should wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet apart
It is important to have clear policies in place for when someone begins showing symptoms at work or has a confirmed case of Covid-19. Equally important is for your employees to know the policies, and know who to contact in your business if a Covid-19 related concern arises.
Take care as you draft and execute your new policies surrounding sick leave and fulfilling home isolation requirements – if policies are perceived as punitive, employees may be reluctant to self-report, possibly leading to a wider outbreak among staff and customers. You should also consider having trained back up staff in place to account for absences related to home isolation requirements. A few more examples of what policies should include are:
Employees should be educated on the signs of Covid-19 and instructed to report to their supervisors should they develop symptoms. Sick employees should be instructed to stay home and follow CDC recommendations for those feeling ill. You should also consult your local health department for guidance and contact-tracing purposes.
If an employee is sick at work, you should:
- Send them home immediately
- Clean and disinfect their workspace
- Consider anyone within 6 feet of the employee during this time to be exposed
Employees who know they have been exposed to Covid-19 should notify their supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions. When employees must be informed of possible exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace, be certain to maintain confidentiality
- FDA Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook
- CDC Guidance for Discontinuation of Home Isolation
- OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for Covid-19
- National Restaurant Association Reopening and Recovery Guidance
Hygiene techniques to review with employees include:
- Frequent and effective handwashing after restroom visits, touching or covering your face with your hands, and as needed according to food safety practices
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose
- Use gloves and avoid bare hand contact with ready to eat foods
- Coughs and sneezes should be covered with a tissue, which should be subsequently thrown out
3. Managing operations
Reopening restaurants and running them in the “New Normal” involves more vigorous adherence to established food safety practices. Below are a few examples of recommended policies:
When drafting new procedures, ensure you Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill:
- Properly clean and disinfect surfaces frequently, especially high-touch areas
- Ensure foods are kept within safe temperatures, stored properly, and care is taken to avoid cross-contamination
- Make sure all equipment is operating at required temperature levels, especially ware-washing machines. Remember that hot water can be used to sanitize equipment in lieu of chemicals in manual ware-washers
Effectively guide customers towards healthy practices by:
- Discontinuing self-serve operations like buffets, salad bars, and beverage service stations that require use of shared serviceware
- Encourage social distancing between customers by directing foot traffic, using visual cues like floor decals and signage, and modifying the layout of your venue
- Consider implementing touchless systems for payment, reducing lines, and menus to limit opportunities for the virus to spread
Food business owners should keep these tips in mind as they address challenges specific to food delivery/pick-up:
- Employee and workplace hygiene standards, as well as established food safety standards, apply to food pick-up and delivery services
- You should evaluate your facility and make changes to enable social distancing if offering take-out/pick-up services. Customers should be able to maintain a 6 foot distance between each other and staff. Implement touchless payment to eliminate transmission points
- Encourage social distancing by promoting “no touch” deliveries and payment options. Consider mobile check-in options for curbside delivery
- Incorporate enhanced and frequent sanitation of coolers and insulated bags used to transport foods into your cleaning protocols
Additional guidance for bars and nightclubs
While many of the restaurant reopening industry standards and recommended practices apply to bars and nightclubs as well, AIHA offers solutions for issues unique to the nightlife industry. Some suggested protocols are:
- Consider closing games, billiards, and other areas that require frequent touching and shared contact. You may alternatively choose to make these games/areas reservation only, and implement a sanitation process between parties
- Ensure there is a minimum of 6 feet between customers and live performers
- Modify layout or mark tables “Reserved for your safety” to create 6 feet of space between tables
- Implement touchless and mobile tech to reduce contact points during transactions
The importance of testing
There’s no denying the value of testing in stopping the spread of Covid-19. Bar and restaurant operators should consider providing employees with information on how to get tested in case they get exposed or develop symptoms. Owners and managers should be aware of the status of testing in their area when dealing with employees trying to access tests. Lines several hours long and shortages of tests have been reported at testing centers in areas with high infection rates.
Some businesses clear these hurdles by employing the services of on-site medical service providers, like Drip Hydration, to test their employees. With these services, you can arrange for a nurse to visit your venue and administer tests to your employees. These tests can be arranged prior to your restaurant reopening, on an as needed basis, or at regular intervals as part of an ongoing workplace health campaign.
Local mandates and restrictions for reopening restaurants
As a business owner in the Covid-19 era of the food industry, it is extremely important to remain aware of rapidly evolving local guidelines and what they mean for you. We’ve linked restaurant reopening guidance for a few major cities below; anyone from outside these areas should contact their local health departments and licensing entities for further guidance.
Drip Hydration Can Help You Reopen and Maintain Smooth Operations
Employee testing not only provides you peace of mind, but reassures staff and patrons alike of your dedication to their safety. Call Drip Hydration today for a consultation – with as little as 24 hours notice, one of our skilled nurses can visit your venue and give Covid-19 tests to each of your employees.
Should someone test positive, our medical professionals can advise them on what to do next – and what you should do to get business back on track. Between our progressive group and ongoing appointment discounts, our services may not be as expensive as you think. Your employees may be excited to hear we also offer group discounts for private in-home services, and PPO insurance holders may be eligible for partial reimbursement.
Call today to find out how we can help you stay ahead of the spread!