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The Anaheim White House began ordering plexiglass barriers before ultimately ordering UV lights for dine-in service.

Tech Tracker: Restaurants turn to UV light and 'cold fog' devices to battle coronavirus

Do these so-called virus killers really work? A few experts weigh in on using these solutions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Early on, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down dine in service in March, restaurateur Bruno Serato looked towards his European roots for solutions to prepare for reopening.

Soon, the owner of The Anaheim White House, a beloved fine dining institution in Anaheim, Calif., began ordering plexiglass barriers. 

Then, he started investing in ultraviolet (UV) light devices, specifically UVC sanitizing instruments. UVC light has the most energy of the three types of UV light.

"UV light has been shown to destroy other coronaviruses, so it will probably work on the novel coronavirus," according to the National Academy of Sciences. 

At Glasspar in Dana Point, Calif., a third-party cleaning service sprays EPA-approved disinfectant twice week as an added layer of protection.

Chef and owner Rob Wilson said a worker in a hazmat-style suit blows a stream of disinfectant mist, often called "cold fog," throughout the 8,000-square-foot upscale seafood restaurant when the restaurant is closed. 

“He actually looks like a Ghostbuster. He literally just blows fog everywhere, up into the ceiling, all the way to tables and chairs and all over,” said Wilson, who launched the restaurant three months before the pandemic swept the nation.

Restaurants_Ready_770.jpgSerato and Wilson are among several restaurant owners around the country turning to these so-called virus killers as part of their COVID-19 cleaning and sanitizing efforts.  These instruments are used to sanitize everything from wine menus to tabletops to silverware. In New York City, famed dessert shop Magnolia Bakery plans to install later this summer sanitizing UVC lights in its West Village (401 Bleecker Street) and Upper West Side (200 Columbus Avenue) retail locations as well as its production facility.  

One device is a “free-standing walkthrough arch” that uses human-safe far-UVC disinfectant lamps to inactivate bacteria and viruses as employees enter the company’s e-commerce production facility. 

“The safety and health of our employees and customers is our top priority,” Bobbie Lloyd, chief baking officer for Magnolia Bakery, said in a statement. “We’ve instituted aggressive cleaning practices in all of the Magnolia Bakery locations that have remained open for takeout and delivery. With this new technology, we’re able to do even more to ensure the safety of our staff and customers.”

Hostess_using_UV_wand.jpgPhoto: Hostess using UV light on silverware at Anaheim White House in Anaheim, Calif.

Credit: Anaheim White House

As business restrictions ease across the country, analyst Jack Li of Datassential said consumers are behaving differently when it comes to the coronavirus. They have gone from a place of fear and helplessness to a place of caution.

Li, founder of the market research firm, said restaurants need to figure out what makes consumers feel like they have control over their destiny. By making them feel safe, they will feel in control.

“Safety beats everything right now,” Li told restaurants during NRN’s Restaurants Rise digital event.

Serato said he’s invested about $7,000 on the new UV equipment to make sure customers feel safe, which includes outfitting a UVC system inside his air conditioning system. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a COVID-19 outbreak to droplet transmission caused by an air conditioning system in a restaurant in China. 

Serato uses Fresh-Aire UV systems. On its website, the company said its system has not been specifically tested against coronavirus; however, it has been tested and “proven effective against similar pathogens,” the company states. 

Serato is not alone. French chef Alain Ducasse recently unveiled an anti-virus air system in one of his restaurants in Paris.

Public health officials have stressed that the main way people contract COVID-19 is through respiratory droplet transmission. Using ultrasonic waves or high intensity UV radiation against COVID-19 are not part of the CDC's guidelines for “Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.” 

“The efficacy of like alternate disinfectant methods like high intensity UV radiation is not known,” said Dr. Larry Caplin, CEO of DOCS Health.

LarryCaplin.jpgCaplin, left, advises businesses, including restaurants, on how to safely reopen dining rooms. 

He said foggers and UV light should not replace basic guidelines issued by the CDC including frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces using EPA-approved household disinfectants, as well physical distancing. 

Dr. Larry Caplin, CEO of DOCS Health..jpgDr. Ruth Petran, senior corporate scientist at Ecolab, said new technologies such as UV light and fogging for large area disinfection may be valuable tools for addressing the virus that causes COVID-19.

“However, restaurant owners should consider these newer technologies alongside current risk management efforts,” she told Nation’s Restaurant News. “Many of these applications are new and not yet substantiated by research or may have other unintended impacts on restaurant staff, assets such as furniture and overall operations.”

Ecolab, in response to COVID-19 crisis, recently launched the Ecolab Science Certified Program for businesses such as hotels and restaurants. Certified restaurants, for example, receive a seal for meeting rigorous health and safety criteria to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Auditors, among other things, ensure that restaurants are following guidelines set by the CDC, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and local health departments.

The best way to effectively combat COVID-19 is a comprehensive approach that considers the uniqueness of your environment, regulatory requirements and the right disinfectants, sanitizers and procedures, along with rigorous staff training and audit to ensure adherence to these practices,” Petran said.

Serato and Wilson say they are following CDC standards. The alternative methods are an added layer of protection for guests and employees. Wilson’s employees are also using clear face shields patented by Racing Optics to protects eyes, nose, and mouth from airborne particles.

Serato, whose fine dining restaurant has been a fixture near Disneyland for 33 years, said he’s been relaying all of his safety measures to guests through the restaurant’s social media channels.

Since reopening Memorial Day weekend for dine-in service, he’s been seating 70-150 people a night. The restaurant, which sits on one acre, has an expansive garden and several private dining rooms that he’s converted to seating to maximize occupancy while adhering to California’s requirements for physical distancing.

“I think this is the reason I am busy. My customers feel secure,” said Serato, who recently had to rebuild his restaurant after it was destroyed by a fire.

“Before the [the pandemic], the customer’s priority was how good the food is, how good the ambiance is,” he said. “Today the priority is safety.”

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

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

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