, , , , ,

The Catering and Hospitality Industry and Hygiene Post Covid-19

Back in March, the government’s emergency legislation in response to Covid-19, ordered restaurants and pubs to close down essentially overnight. The Catering and Hospitality industry remains one of the hardest hit by the crisis. As the months have rolled on and restaurants and pubs look to reopen their doors by potentially, early July, many wonder how things might have to change or become different post Covid-19, especially when it comes to food hygiene and food safety.

Post COVID or Post Lockdown?

The phrase ‘post COVID-19’ means after COVID-19. The prefix post- means “after” or “behind”.

If you take that at face value, this assumes the pandemic has finished so therefore COVID-19 controls will no longer be necessary and things can go back to the way they were, by virtue of the fact there will no longer be COVID-19 to control against. However, some people when they use the term ‘post COVID-19’ actually mean ‘post lockdown’ or ‘during the easing of restrictions’. We very much hope that things will return to normal as soon as reasonably possible!

While we remain optimistic, that does need to be balanced with a realistic mindset. We cannot predict the future, but COVID-19 has left its mark on all of us and as restrictions ease, there certainly must be measures that will have to be in place within catering establishments before business commences once again, as well as during service that will control infection and possible transmission of the virus. Some of these measures will be temporary, but some are likely to last longer.

 

Before returning to work and reopening

First of all, in order to safeguard both employees and customers alike, there must be necessary and specific prerequisites in place. This is to ensure foundational preventative actions are put into effect long before a customer sets foot on the premises. This will include but is not limited to:

  • Directors, Food Business Operators and senior managers alike, should have dialogue prior to staff returning to their workplace, in order to ensure that appropriate procedures can be developed and put in place before staff return. Further discussions should take place very soon after workers return to identify whether those controls are working and are being adhered to. It will also be necessary for further discussions as things evolve or anything significantly changes.
  • A formal review of the establishment’s Food Safety Management System and Risk Assessments to ensure adequate and additional controls are up-to-date and take into account current scientific and epidemiological information. This would involve: making sure that adequate virus controls are in place such as deep cleans which occur more frequently, perhaps considering the use of contract cleaners and also making use of new virucidal cleaning products, as well as anti-bacterial disinfectants
  • A strong emphasis on a good food safety and safety culture. A Food Safety Culture are the values, attitudes and behaviours that characterise a food establishment with regards to food safety. This is demonstrated by displaying to staff and customers that ensuring food safety is an important commitment and not just “lip service.” For this to happen, Food Business Operators, Managers and Supervisors must communicate standards and legal responsibilities of staff and the importance thereof. This is a continual process, which will reinforce good hygiene practice on a day-to-day basis. Examples of this could be:

 

  • Verbal or written instruction demonstrating good practice
  • The use of relevant training courses for staff 
  • Issuing company workbook and hygiene rules to inform staff
  • The use of notices or posters, markers, signs, tape and / or floor mats reinforcing this will serve as a guide and a visual reminder
  • Leading by example.

 

  • Additional Training for Furloughed Staff. As things will have changed considerably by the time staff return to work, make sure that staff are prepared and up to date with the latest information and any new or different control measures/ policies and that support is given for any queries they may have.

Cleanliness and Personal Hygiene

After prerequisites are in place, it is important that appropriate measures are carried out and continue when business resumes trading. Although studies to date show that the virus is not foodborne, it is even more important that food handlers regularly wash their hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds; keep their uniforms neat and clean, and any staff who are unwell or displaying coronavirus symptoms must NOT be at work but go home and follow the current government guidelines for quarantining. Food businesses should be aware that not only must basic hygiene practices be maintained but also areas of risk are recognised and that special attention is paid to these areas.

  Cleaning of surfaces and Touch Points

Any hand contact surface areas must be cleaned frequently in order to stop the transmission of the virus. Stringent and regular cleaning of door handles, tills, table surfaces, menus etc. must be implemented. It is also important that surfaces such as tables are antimicrobial, being smooth, impervious and without crevices for viruses to harbour in.

Screening of guests

In some establishments it may also be possible to send guests a health screening questionnaire upon booking and providing them with written information; reminding them of the guidelines regarding self-isolation, if they or someone in their household has symptoms of COVID-19.

The idea of temperature checking customers as they enter the establishment could also mitigate the risk of an infected individual entering and infecting others. However, in addition to asymptomatic cases, there have been cases of infected persons not exhibiting a high temperature as a symptom of COVID-19. Therefore, although this may be a useful tool, it is by no means infallible.

 Social Distancing and PPE

In order to practice social distancing within the premises, a few things may be done to aid in carrying this out:

  • A reduced set customer allowance number
  • Make use of outside seating areas (if possible)
  • Updated seating arrangement that conforms to the 2 metre rule (wherever possible)
  • The use of ‘long trays’
  • The ceasation of buffets
  • The appropriate use of PPE such as plastic face shields and disposable gloves

Although the above may seem straightforward enough on paper, this will present various challenges. We must acknowledge at this point that the area of social distancing is not so straightforward and is problematic (even potentially with a 1 metre distancing rule) not least for the following two reasons:

  1. One of the primary reasons people go out to restaurants, pubs and clubs is to socialize. Food is one of the primary binding forces of our culture and there is a lot more than going out merely to be fed. Social distancing is by definition not very social and will inevitably create an unusual and clinical atmosphere and will take away from the occasion.
  2. Many restaurants rely on volume of customers to make them commercially viable – it’s a numbers game. For customers to adequately socially distance it could mean that the majority of restaurants will need to run at a half capacity or less, which would not only lead to a drop in profits, but in many cases cause the business to run at a loss and subsequently, will be unlikely to survive under social distancing. This is one of the biggest challenges that will need to be overcome. It is however interesting that the current government advice is “…practise social distancing wherever possible.” (Emphasis added). In the many cases it will not be possible to socially distance.

These extra measures will likely be temporary and we, as a business hope things will return to normal soon. Some of our team had the opportunity to talk to an epidemiologist recently who believes that this virus is on its way out and it won’t be long now before it comes to an end. As much as we still need to be careful and remain on our guard, the measures we put in place must be proportionate to the level of risk. We should not be cracking the proverbial peanut with a sledgehammer! Are we really being driven by objective medical and scientific advice or are we being ruled by fear? It is important that common sense prevails and measures are reasonable and commensurate with the risks. It is important also that individuals balance and weigh-up the risks for themselves.

 

For practical advice on returning to work and workplace controls and to be COVID safe, please contact us.

, , , ,

The Efficacy and Effectiveness of Facemasks

Due to the ambiguous and conflicting nature of the little information we do have on the effectiveness of wearing a form of mask in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many food businesses have reached out to us with questions over the use of PPE in the workplace as employees start looking to return to work. There is little information on the efficiency and efficacy of masks regarding their ability to filter out respiratory virus particles, such as coronavirus; yet over 30 countries have made masks a legal requirement outdoors for the public. So this naturally begs a question: Is there a significant benefit in using some form of face covering for warding off this virus?

Firstly, in order to decide on their effectiveness, let’s look at the different types of commonly used masks and their intended purposes.

  • Surgical Masks: A disposable, multilayer mask intended to act as a barrier to protect surgical personnel and general health-care workers, as well as patients from splashes of blood, body fluids and large droplets.

 

  • N95 Respiratory Masks: Manufactured mainly for industries that expose employees to dust and other small particles, although some are designed for use in health care. As the name might suggest, this mask is designed to block 95% of very small particles, making them more protective than a surgical mask.

 

  • Cloth Masks: Since medical masks are discouraged for public use so as to preserve the limited supply for medical professionals, many have come to make their own out of fabric. Said to be less effective due to their porosity and often found gaps between the nose, cheeks and jaw area.

 

  • Plastic Face Shields: Used by many workers usually not used alone, but along with other forms of PPE.

 

Although there have been no significantly large scale clinical trials, studies have been made on different types of masks but neither tell us that masks are useful or just a waste of time. A certain study carried out in South Korea1 took four patients infected with coronavirus asking them to cough into separate petri dishes five times while wearing a sequence of masks along with no mask, each time. The result was that neither surgical nor cotton masks effectively filtered out SARS-CoV-2. It is worth noting that they did find greater contamination on the outer layer as opposed to the inner surface of the mask which may be due to air leakage around the mask’s edge which may have led to the outer layer’s contamination. Another study taken at the University of Edinburgh2 on 7 different face coverings including medical and homemade masks, proved that the surgical and homemade masks tested did help reduce the distance in which the micro droplets spread forward but did generate far reaching jets of air leakage to the side, behind, above and below especially in heavy breathing and coughing. Only the masks that formed tight seals around the face were found to prevent the escape of particles.

To sum up, due to the fact that most masks, especially homemade masks, are so porous and coronavirus particles so small, that while they may protect against larger droplets from a cough or sneeze, they do not act as a physical barrier. If you were to magnify under a microscope, the pores on a mask are as effective as chicken wire is to prevent dust particles from entering.

Advantages:

  • Proper PPE can help protect others if you are infected.
  • Studies show that the combination of wearing a mask and hand washing is more effective than hand washing alone.
  • Surgical masks reduce the amount of seasonal coronavirus particles.
  • Fabric masks may catch larger particles droplets such as from a cough or sneeze.
  • Psychologically, it may provide a sense of security and peace of mind for some.

 

Disadvantages:

  • No solid evidence to prove that it is significantly beneficial to wear.
  • Masks are not likely to protect the wearer.
  • It can increase your own risk of exposure because of possible mishandling of a contaminated mask.
  • The most readily available masks, homemade masks, are a lot less effective.
  • They MUST fit well with very few gaps in order to work well.

In summary, mask wearing may just be an extra add-on precaution. For some, they may just be helpful so as to provide a feeling of safety and security. Regular and thorough hand washing, as well as social distancing are still predominantly the best and most effective way of staying safe. There is no point in wearing a mask or another form of PPE if you are neglecting these most vital procedures.  We cannot put our faith in face covering to get us back to normal. It is absolutely vital, more than ever, that proper and continuous hand hygiene is maintained during this time.

 

For help and advice on keeping you and your customers safe during this time, please contact us.

 

References:

  1. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-1342
  2. https://www.ed.ac.uk/covid-19-response/latest-news/face-coverings-covid-19-transmission-risk

 

 

 

 

 

,

Frequently Asked Questions on COVID-19

In response to some frequently asked questions we have had over the past few months on the subject, we thought it would be useful to dedicate this post to answering some of these questions.

What’s in a name? Coronavirus, COVID, COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2?

The name “corona” is a Latin word which means “crown” or a “wreath”, which in turn comes from the Greek word ‘κορώνη’ (Korone). The name denotes the characteristic appearance of the virons under a microscope, which appear as bulbous spikes.
Human Coronaviruses were first discovered in humans back in the 1960’s. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, all of which have spiky proteins on their surface. Some of these viruses cause the common cold. Other coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, primarily infect animals.
The novel coronavirus has been named ‘SARS-CoV-2’. The disease caused by it has been named COVID-19.

Is the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) transmitted by food?

By virtue of the fact this virus is new, there are still things pertaining to this virus which are unclear. However, studies to-date show that COVID-19 is not a foodborne disease and that the main transmission is through humans and not food. But as always, it is essential that good food hygiene practices are stringently followed, not only to ensure protection against COVID-19, but from other viruses which are foodborne, for instance, Hepatitis A and Norovirus, and will indeed reduce the likelihood of contamination of foods with any pathogen.

What about Food packaging?

The majority of scientists believe that the virus cannot survive on packaging for an extended period of time, because of poor survivability of coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging. However, it is important that practical control measures are in place, and staff handling food within its primary and secondary packaging should always wash their hands immediately afterwards and refrain from touching their eyes, ears, nose or mouth. Moreover, it is advisable that external packaging is not handled more than necessary.

Return to work: Workplace controls

As the lockdown measures begin to ease and the nation ‘gets back to work’ it is essential that businesses ensure that sensible, practical and effective control measures are put in place to prevent the potential spread of the virus. As stated already, the main transmission route of the virus is from direct human-to-human contact.
As a general rule, the longer someone is in close contact with an infected person, the more likely they are to catch the virus themselves, but it is still possible to catch it within a few minutes.

Directors, business owners and senior managers alike, should have dialogue prior to staff returning to their workplace, so that appropriate plans can be developed and put in place before workers return. Further discussions should take place very soon after staff return to ensure that controls are working and are being adhered to. It will also be necessary for further discussions as things evolve or anything significantly changes. For example, when new guidelines are published or the restrictions change, but also, if the controls are not working as expected.
It is vital however, that iteration between parties and lines of communication are kept open between managers and staff and that there is sufficient time allocated to have these conversations.

Workplace control measures will vary from business to business, and could include, but are not limited to:

– Individuals should not share vehicles or cabs when travelling, where suitable distancing cannot be achieved.
– Utilise the least amount of staff as necessary
– Stagger shifts
– Staff to decontaminate / wash hands thoroughly on starting their shift
– The use of correct PPE
– The use of a one way system
– A ‘one in one out’ system in certain areas where appropriate
– Restrict visitors to the site – only authorised personnel and key / essential workers permitted
– Maintain the 2 metre distancing rule at all times during the shifts. The use of markers, signs, tape and / or floor mats reinforcing this will serve as a guide and a visual reminder
– Staff to work back-to-back where possible – especially where space is an issue
– Stagger breaks and start and finish times.

Employers should always make sure that all employees are aware of the most up-to-date guidelines regarding self-isolation – especially if they or someone in their household has symptoms of COVID-19. Always ensure that support and reassurance is readily available for anyone who is self-isolating, but also for those other workers who may be anxious about returning to work.

For further advice on COVID-19 controls in your workplace, please contact us.