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An Ecolab Ecosure expert offers best strategies for reopening a restaurant in the coronavirus age.

Best strategies for reopening restaurants in the coronavirus era

Expert Mandy Sedlak, food safety and public health manager for Ecolab’s Ecosure division, offers health and sanitation steps to consider as restrictions are lifted

As operators turn their attentions to reopening restaurants and dining rooms as coronavirus restrictions ease, they are faced with a multitude of new guidelines and issues left from six weeks or more of partial or complete closure.

As states and cities closed dining rooms in March to stem the spread of COVID-19, operator focus turned to survival strategies. But that is quickly changing as some jurisdictions lift restrictions on dining rooms.

Nation’s Restaurant News turned again to Mandy Sedlak, food safety and public health manager for Ecolab’s Ecosure division, who earlier offered her expert advice on issues around delivery and takeout and how to clean after coronavirus cases were diagnosed.

Here are Sedlak’s recommendations on strategies around restaurant reopenings:


What are some of the things you’d want to think about before reopening a restaurant or a dining room?

We are not exactly sure what the new normal will look like inside the restaurant, but we can say for certain that things will look different as we phase into reopening.

Keep your guests, managers, employees and families safe by building consumer confidence through the following: keeping sick people at home; maintaining distances between guests and staff where you can; increasing the frequency of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting; and using risk mitigations such as masks where it makes sense and as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or local public health authorities.

What do you recommend in the area of personal hygiene?

Personal health is of utmost importance.  Update your illness policy to include fever and respiratory symptoms and ensure a system is in place to monitor employee’s health.

One way to do this is to complete wellness checks upon arrival.  If you are taking temperatures of employees, designate a person and location to take temperatures, a threshold and protocol for working or not working.  Equip the person taking temperatures with proper PPE [personal protective equipment].

We know that hand washing and use of hand sanitizer when a hand sink is not available is important.

Consider if you have easily accessible hand sinks for guests. Ensure hand sinks are fully stocked, including the guest restroom sinks. Increase the frequency of restroom checks to restock soap and paper towels for an anticipated increase in hand washing. Also consider providing hand sanitizer to guests.

How about protective gloves?

It’s a best practice to designate a location for glove storage near the hand sinks to encourage hand washing before donning gloves.  Reinforce your current glove policy. Wear gloves when needed for preparing food and handling food that is ready to eat. Wearing gloves when not needed could provide a false sense of security. If you must wear gloves for non-food activities, a best practice could be to wear a different color glove than that used for food contact handling. 

How about protective masks?

If you have a mask policy in place, ensure everyone has been trained on the guidelines on how to wear and care for the masks.

And disinfection protocols? 

Restaurants should have an Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectant approved for use against COVID-19 on hand. 

Restaurants have had high standards of cleanliness in the past, and that hasn’t changed now.

Give all hard, non-porous surfaces and high touch points a thorough disinfection before opening and on a routine schedule after opening.

Some examples of high-touch point surfaces are doorknobs, door handles and push plates, railings, light- and air-control switches, faucets, toilet flush levers and chairs. You’ll want to disinfect point-of-sale screens, too, but be careful not to damage the equipment.  Consider disinfecting tables too.  But keep in mind these are considered a food-contact surface by the EPA, so wash, rinse and sanitize after disinfection. 

The restrooms should be cleaned and disinfected prior to reopening and on a routine schedule after opening, suggested at a minimum of four times a day. 

How about social-distancing measures, such as, say, keeping employees and guests six feet apart?

Social distancing measures may be still in effect. Designate a location for pickup of takeout and delivery orders with access to hand sinks or hand sanitizer available.

Consider texting guests when tables are ready to avoid large gatherings in the lobby area and plan the seating chart well in advance, possibly phasing in the number of guests allowed to sit at least six feet apart. 

When it is possible, you may also want to consider designated entrances and exits; reducing face-to-face exposure upon entrance and exiting. 

Encourage touchless payments and consider disposable menus, menus that can be properly disinfected after each guest or digital ordering.  QR [quick response] codes could be used to place orders on guests own personal devices. 

How should restaurant operators instill consumer confidence?

Guests will not only expect to “be safe,” they will want to “see safe.”

Consider the following to help increase consumer confidence: Posting a customer facing hygiene and cleanliness statement. But actions speak louder than words.

Consider designating one person to clean high-touch points throughout the day and encouraging employees to wash their hands when necessary and to use the statements, “Excuse me while I step away to wash my hands. I’ll be right back.”  

Also consider: Have you trained your new and existing employees on proper hand-washing illness policies and the disinfection procedures and frequency? Do you have a procedure in place to increase the cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting? Are they properly and actively practicing these procedures?  These are some of the questions you’ll want to answer.

How about restaurant equipment and tools?

When it comes to equipment, empty and clean. Change the fryer oil. Wash, rinse and sanitize all food-contact surfaces, following standard protocols and labeled directions. Ensure all hot and cold holding equipment is properly functioning: refrigerators are at 41 degrees F or colder and freezers are at 10 degrees F or colder.

Check the condition and expiration of all food products and discard any expired products. Ensure all products are properly labeled. Store all products off the floor and on the proper level, ready-to-eat products on the top shelves. Rearrange coolers and freezers before accepting new deliveries to maintain organization. Reduce points of contact during deliveries.

Wash, rinse and sanitize all unprotected tools and small wares.  Clean and sanitize all shelving before placing back into storage.  Clean and sanitize and food contact surfaces. Clean and sanitize ice machine, bins, ice buckets and ice scoops. Check floors under kitchen equipment for signs of pest activity (cockroach, mice, small flies, etc.) Clean all floors and floor drains.  Disinfect all door handles and equipment knobs.  Set a system to maintain social distancing as much as possible in the back of the house.

If possible, limit menu offerings to accommodate preparation and cooking at distances.

Ensure the dish machine is working properly and chemicals are dispensing correctly. Check gauges for proper wash and rinse temperatures.

A best practice would be to run two empty racks through the machine before using. Ensure chemicals at the three-compartment sink are dispensing properly and when dispensed, sanitizer is at the correct concentration. Wash rinse and sanitize three-compartment sinks before using.  Ensure water reaches 100 degrees F at all hand-washing sinks and 110 degrees F at the three-compartment sink.

How about physical-plant systems?

Follow your local public health guidance.

Contact your pest management partner prior to opening to ensure traps are working and no issues are present.

With an anticipated increase in trash, ensure the dumpster areas are clean to prevent the attraction of pests, and for an overall clean appearance of the outside area of the restaurant. 

Flush the water systems (hot and cold) for 10 minutes and follow the service-disruption protocols that should be a piece of your master water management program. 

How about employee training?

A training and compliance program is highly encouraged. Employees may be returning after time off or they may be new. Build out the new-hire and existing employee training program, which includes supervisor and line level employee, with proper personal hygiene and hand washing, updated ill-employee policy and the proper cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting procedures.

And any more thoughts?

When preparing and executing on tasks to reopen a restaurant or dining room; keep food safety, public health and people front of mind. 

We are all guests, managers, employees, families and friends navigating through and toward our new normal. 

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.

Learn lessons in leadership during a crisis from our panel of experts on Friday, May 1.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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