As we all know, not long ago restaurants were busy serving clients. Then of course food safety was part of the practice, but maybe not the number one thing on people’s minds, like it is now.
A major game changer happened when the Covid-19 pandemic came, it completely changed the restaurant world as we know it. All the restaurants in order to prevent the spread of the pandemic were closed. And only take away services were allowed. Fast forward six weeks after the confinement/lockdown, restaurants were authorised to open again, but with special requirements and instructions. And restaurants had to adapt to the necessary social distancing practices.
This pandemic situation created a concern shared by many people for their health, unsure if it is safe now to order take away or eat food from restaurants they frequented before the pandemic.
With the pandemic, it become imperative for restaurants to be more vigilant about food safety.
All food establishments have an obligation to protect public health by following proper food safety standards. So far there is no evidence of Covid-19 transmission via food or food packaging, according to the World Health Organization. However, the coronavirus may be able to survive on objects or surfaces, which is one of several reasons why it is essential to ensure that your restaurant is as clean as possible, and safe for your clients and employees.
Your clients are the heartbeat of your business, and the good news is that they want to support you through this challenging time of social distancing. By communicating your food safety practices clearly and often, you’ll make it easier for them to feel confident ordering meals from you.
In addition to reassuring clients that you are going above and beyond to protect them, you must also ensure that your staff feel safe coming into work. Your team needs to know they can rely on you to prioritise their health and steward them through this crisis.
There is no doubt that doubling on food safety helps limit the spread of illness. But, it also makes social distancing a little less difficult for your community when they can still look forward to enjoying takeout from their favourite restaurants.
7 food safety tips restaurants should implement now
1.Send staff home if they show symptoms
Food safety starts with the people who are preparing and serving meals. You must lead by example if you want your employees to take the pandemic seriously. If any of your staff have cold symptoms send them home. Also, check what the recommendations of the Ministry of Health are.
You can offer sick leave pay to your staff if your restaurant is in a position to do so.
You should also ensure that your employees know where to access information about Covid-19.
2. Make handwashing mandatory
Forget simply encouraging extra handwashing. Now is the time to make handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds mandatory in various situations, including:
When staff arrive at your restaurant
Between each order they prepare
After touching shared surfaces
After a meal or a smoke break
After bathroom breaks
After handling money
After cleaning the restaurant When they leave for the day
Stock your restaurant’s handwashing stations with soap, and ensure that hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol is available in multiple spots around the front and back of the establishment. Put posters up with handwashing information and remind staff verbally each day that you expect everyone to upgrade their handwashing efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.
3. Limit food handling
Personal hygiene is imperative when it comes to protecting against the coronavirus, but you can take measures a step farther by limiting the number of people who handle food and food packaging in your restaurant. You may need to rethink the flow of your kitchen line if possible to have fewer staff involved in meal prep, as long as you continue to handle raw and cooked food separately. Ensure that employees who are handling food are well trained in food safety tips and procedures. This might be the time to review what was learned when your staff got the food handler training which included personal hygiene, sanitation, food safety, and food temperature.
4. Clean – and then clean again
Before, during, and after shifts, now is the time to up your cleaning game. Exactly how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces hasn’t yet been confirmed, so be diligent in frequently wiping down counters and cleaning cookware, tableware, utensils, and high-contact surfaces like door handles.
5. Delivery people with information and protection
Restaurant owners can take several steps to protect their delivery drivers from exposure to the coronavirus, starting by outlining delivery instructions at the point when a customer places their order online or over the phone. Many restaurants have started doing contactless drop-offs to comply with social distancing. Through contactless drop-off, the customer pays in advance and the driver leaves the package of food outside the door so that the two parties don’t interact. Since diners are able to place these orders online and request contactless drop-off, it provides another layer of protection between your staff or drivers and the public. You will want to make sure to highlight online ordering offers and new delivery practices on your website and social media channels. Make sure staff taking food orders are aware of any contactless instructions and have them communicate what’s available to customers. If you choose not to add your own online ordering system and delivery fleet, and instead work with a third-party delivery app with a delivery app like Vuba vuba, they likely have already implemented these precautions. Research what measures they’re taking so you can relay these to customers as well. Opt for contactless payments made either over the phone with card-not-present transactions, through your website, or with a tap-enabled payment terminal.
6. Handle packages properly
You and your restaurant staff will inevitably have to touch some food packages to fulfill orders, and you will have to work together to do so safely. Adhere to social distancing by avoiding passing packages to one another. Instead, set the item down on a table, then walk away so the other person can pick it up safely.
7. Be smart with suppliers
It’s important to protect your suppliers, as well as your guests and employees. You can use the same contactless drop-off method with suppliers that you do with delivery customers. Again, limit the number of people handling these items.
Also, ask your suppliers what precautions they’re putting in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that you can communicate this information to your staff and customers.
In addition to implementing these food safety tips at your restaurant, look into Rwanda’s Ministry of Health guidelines before finalising or communicating your restaurant’s approach to fighting the pandemic. These are the best sources for up-to-date information during a situation that is changing by the day.
Times are tough right now, and you are focused on your business, but don’t forget to take care of yourself too and try to keep your stress levels down. If you are protecting your employees and customers by observing food safety tips and keeping your restaurant spotless, you are playing an important role in curbing the spread of Covid-19.
The author is a chef in Kigali.