Not only in Australia but globally restaurants were among the first to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bookings disappeared almost overnight, followed by long imposed periods of closure and staff inactivity. Thus, putting effective cleaning procedures in place is crucial to reaffirming your reputation and for your future success.
New expectations around cleanliness
There are few sectors prior to the pandemic in which hygiene has been of such a high priority. Thankfully, the food service industry is well-versed in the necessity for cleanliness in both front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) areas.
Yet diners’ sensitivity to hygiene standards was previously based primarily on appearance. The presence of COVID-19 requires you to conform to unparalleled and explicit new levels of cleanliness. With this heightened expectation of hygiene, both diners and staff will want to know – and to confirm with their own eyes – what you are doing to ensure health and safety.
Before you focus on enhanced cleaning, create a clear plan based on a feasible reopening date. Having gone through a disruptive period of high uncertainty – and with much uncertainty still to come – this enables you to assess risks and measure daily progress.
It also helps to raise team spirit by creating a mutual goal among staff and allows everyone to work backwards from the intended opening date to determine how quickly other tasks need to be completed.
Aim to have everything completed to your satisfaction by this date but shift it if necessary as you progress. In the new normal of hyper-vigilance, first impressions are critical as you seek to rebuild previous levels of customer confidence. Anything less than best public health practice creates another obstacle to survival when you already face many more.
Best practices for your business
Ready your restaurant for reopening by implementing the following strategies:
- Implement social distancing
Understanding the requirements of social distancing laid down by governments and health authorities is essential. Social distancing defines the constraints for everyone in your restaurant.
With strict limits on the number of diners, evaluating the layout of your restaurant and clearly defining entrance and exit routes is essential for safe movement. Instruct staff in procedures. Emphasise that social distancing applies everywhere and will change only with new guidance from applicable authorities.
- Use training and communication to your advantage
Training on all new public health practices is important, especially for employees whose duties have not involved cleaning before. Develop cleaning kits that combine essential products ensuring ease of use, prevention, and best practice.
Then, clearly outline to staff and customers the measures you are taking to protect them, and that you are using recommended and safe products. Establish an emergency protocol, as the pervasiveness of COVID-19 means that workers may test positive.
- Prioritise hand hygiene
Hands are the main route for personal infection and the spread of pathogens. Thus, regular hand washing procedures and use of hand sanitiser are central to limiting exposure. Ensure access to wall-mounted dispensers and free-standing hand hygiene stations offering alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
The percentage of alcohol in hand sanitiser is key to its effectiveness. Many products have rushed to market on the back of the pandemic that should be treated with caution. A professional product will provide assurance and its efficacy should be proven according to recognised standards.
An alcohol content of 60 per cent is the minimum recommendation from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). However, sanitisers that have more than 70 per cent alcohol content ensure a faster kill rate.
- Select the right chemicals for added assurance
Preferably use disinfectants that are specifically approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The shorter the contact time – one minute or less – the better for inactivating the virus. Also ensure you choose hospital grade disinfectants, which are rapidly becoming the new normal in disinfection.
They use technologies like Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP), which are markedly safer for people and surfaces while still being tough on pathogens. These disinfectants are also more efficient than the existing slower Quats-based (quaternary ammonium compounds) products, or those formulated on Hypochlorite or Peracetic acid. AHP achieves the balance of maximising potency while minimising toxicity, breaking down into water and oxygen just minutes after use.
- Conduct hand contact surface disinfection
Studies show that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can remain on surfaces for up to several days, including 48 hours on stainless steel and 72 hours on plastic. Routine disinfection of high hand contact surfaces is an important part of preventing the risk of transmission. Commonly touched surfaces should be put on a cleaning schedule to ensure they are disinfected frequently throughout the day.
Incorporate a disinfectant range that offers numerous applications, including ready-to-use liquids, pre-moistened wipes and concentrates for added convenience and consistency. It may also help if you colour code products, tools and equipment for different cleaning procedures to help prevent cross-contamination and the spread of germs.
- Work with a trusted provider
With supply chains struggling to achieve pre-pandemic levels, using multiple suppliers for cleaning essentials can complicate your cleaning program. Being able to rely on a single hygiene partner for everything from chemicals to training improves efficiency.
Don’t make the budget supply option your main criteria and avoid buying ineffective, unproven products from an unfamiliar source online or from your general distributor. Instead, identify a trusted hygiene provider that can offer expert advice and the appropriate products during this critical time.
There is nothing certain in the new normal for the food service industry. Nevertheless, by implementing a clear plan and the appropriate cleaning and hygiene measures, you can create the safest restaurant environment possible for your staff and customers, while giving yourself the best chance of success in these very difficult times.
Peter Teska, Global Infection Prevention Application Expert, Diversey
This article was first published in the November/December issue of INCLEAN magazine
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