“The reality is that foodservice has always focused on infection prevention. We already have strong procedures and protocols in place to avoid contamination and cross-contamination,” says Shari L. Solomon, Esq, CIEC, and President of CleanHealth Environmental, LLC, Silver Spring, Maryland “COVID-19 doesn’t change any of that, but it does heighten awareness.”

That heightened awareness, however, is not necessarily a good thing — and can backfire in several ways. For instance, an enthusiastic employee may misuse or overuse disinfectants, increasing their risk of ailments like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Or newly vigilant customers might observe employees cleaning and sanitizing incorrectly or, even worse, not at all.

To combat these challenges, experts recommend distributors offer constant process auditing and a solid training schedule, examining procedures from different angles.

“I like to conduct the initial assessment from two viewpoints,” says Mike Sawchuk of Sawchuk Consulting, St. Catharines, Ontario. He recommends starting with an examination of the operations. This includes inspecting the actual products, procedures, frequencies, tools being used, methods of verification/validation and protocols. “Observe how workers do these tasks and see if it lines up with training,” he says.

But that is only part of the process. Sawchuk also recommends looking at the facility from the viewpoint of the patrons. That includes what they see, smell, observe, and their perception of the level of cleanliness, safety and health.

“What the patrons perceive and believe is important and must be examined,” he says. “Consider the methods of cleaning and even the types of labels customers see.”

One thing that everyone wants to see is well-placed hand sanitizing stations. While fomites are not the main way COVID-19 is transmitted, there are still plenty of opportunities to pick up and transfer the disease in restaurants via hand contact — as seen in a study in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, recommends including hand sanitizer inside the restroom, as well.

“In our studies, only about one in five people adequately wash their hands, only half use soap, and the average wash time is 11 seconds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 20 seconds,” he says.

Audits may uncover surprisingly basic mistakes — for instance, not cleaning a surface before applying disinfectant — and open the door for ongoing training.

“Every professional should be trained that this is a two-step process, but in reality, these things are being missed in the field,” laments Solomon. “Which is why constant training is key.”

Along with initial training, she recommends refresher sessions every six months. Without refresher training, frontline workers can easily revert back to their old ways and the original training loses value.

Training is also a great opportunity to empower and elevate workers – playing a role in public safety creates a sense of value.

“We endorse the concept of making sure that the personnel responsible for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting get proper instructions on how to perform these tasks,” says Dr. Gerba. “[They should also] understand the crucial role they play in creating an environment where customers feel reassured that proper procedures are being followed.”

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