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Everything Restaurant Operators Need to Know About Opening Up in a Pandemic

It seems like the good old days when restaurant cleaning and disinfecting priorities focused mainly on preventing foodborne illnesses and maintaining an attractive, enjoyable environment that met the approval of both patrons and health and safety inspectors. Now during the pandemic, restaurants have the intensified stress of staying in business, meaning the importance of restaurant cleaning is at an all-time high, with financial survival and community health dependent on it.

The State of the Restaurant Industry

A National Restaurant Association survey of more than 6,500 restaurant operators nationwide shows the extent of nationwide restaurant job losses and sales, which are deep and widespread across all segments. The restaurant industry, more so than any other industry in the U.S., has suffered the most significant sales and job losses since the pandemic began. With 2 out of 3 restaurant workers laid off, and projected losses of $240 billion by the end of the year, restaurants are fighting to sustain business.

The good news is that while the customer base for on-premises dining is significantly smaller than pre-pandemic levels, these consumers appear to be willing to maintain their frequency as we enter into the winter months. Among adults who dined out for lunch or dinner, 35% said they plan to increase their on-premises frequency during the next three months. Only 26% said they plan to dine out less frequently.

Continuing Restaurant Operation During COVID-19

Attracting and keeping restaurant patrons means restaurant owners have to keep operations going while considering how to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission for employees, customers, and communities. The FDA is sharing information about best practices to operate retail food stores, restaurants, and associated pick-up and delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard workers and consumers, including strategies for:

  1. Managing Employee Health
  2. Promoting Personal Hygiene for Employees
  3. Managing Food Pick-Up and Delivery
  4. Managing Operations and Maintaining Healthy Environments

While there is a multitude of strategies restaurants can execute on to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission, when it comes to workplace prevention practices, specifically restaurant cleaning and disinfection, the CDC has outlined considerations for restaurants that supplement state or local health and safety laws, rules, and regulations.

Maintaining Healthy Restaurant Environments

According to the CDC, restaurants and bars may implement several restaurant cleaning and disinfecting strategies to maintain healthy environments:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (e.g., door handles, cash registers, workstations, sink handles, bathroom stalls) at least daily, and as much as possible. Clean shared objects (e.g., payment terminals, tables, countertops/bars, receipt trays, condiment holders) between each use.
  • Use products that meet EPA disinfection criteria and that are appropriate for the surface. Allow the disinfectant to remain on the surface for the contact time recommended by the manufacturer.
  • When cleaning and disinfecting, wear gloves appropriate for the disinfectant being used. Additional personal protective equipment may also be needed.
  • Establish a disinfection routine and train staff on proper restaurant cleaning timing and procedures to ensure safe and correct application of disinfectants.
  • Wash, rinse, and sanitize used or dirty food contact surfaces with an EPA-approved food contact surface sanitizer.
  • Ensure that cleaning or disinfecting product residues are not left on table surfaces. Develop a schedule for increased routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Ensure safe and correct use and storage of disinfectants to avoid food contamination and harm to employees and other individuals.
  • Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.

In addition to the above cleaning and disinfecting protocols, the CDC also provides guidance on:

  • Shared Objects: Limiting the use of shared devices and objects.
  • Ventilation: Additional guidance can be found in ASHRAE Standard 62.1, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.
  • Water Systems: To minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water, take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (e.g., sink faucets, decorative fountains, drinking fountains) are safe to use if there has been prolonged facility shutdown.
  • Modified Layouts and Procedures: Supporting social distancing and contact less transactions.
  • Physical Barriers and Guides: Barriers can be useful in restaurant kitchens and at cash registers, host stands, or food pickup areas where maintaining physical distance is difficult.
  • Communal Spaces: Close shared spaces such as break rooms, if possible; otherwise stagger use, require mask use, and clean and disinfectbetween use.
  • Regulatory Awareness: Be aware of local or state policies and recommendations related to group gatherings to determine if events can be held.
  • Staggered or Rotated Shifts and Sittings: Rotate or stagger shifts to limit the number of employees in the restaurant or bar at the same time. Stagger and limit dining times to minimize the number of customers in the establishment.
  • Gatherings: Avoid group events, gatherings, or meetings where social distancing of at least 6 feet between people who do not live in the same household cannot be maintained.
  • Travel and Transit: Encourage employees to use transportation options that minimize close contact with others.
  • Designated COVID-19 Point of Contact: Designate a staff person for each shift to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns.
  • Communication Systems: Put systems in place for reporting exposure, notifying staff, customers, and the public of business closures, and restrictions in place to limit COVID-19 exposure (e.g., limited hours of operation).
  • Leave (Time Off) Policies: Implement flexible sick leave policies and practices that enable employees to stay home when they are sick, have been exposed, or are caring for someone who is sick.
  • Back-Up Staffing Plan: Monitor absenteeism of employees, cross-train staff, and create a roster of trained back-up staff.
  • Staff Training: Train all employees in safety actions.
  • Recognize Signs and Symptoms: Conduct daily health checks (e.g., temperature screening and/or symptom checking) of staff safely and respectfully, and in accordance with any applicable privacy laws and regulations.

Restaurant Cleaning Considerations After COVID-19 Exposure

If a restaurant does need to close following COVID-19 exposure, cleaning and disinfecting procedures evolve from everyday routine tasks to a critical part of reopening. When developing a re-opening plan, restaurants should include the following considerations, whether for routine or deep cleaning:

  • Determine what needs to be cleaned, both in the front of the house and back of the house, as some surfaces only require soap and water. During this process, the importance of floor cleaning to combat the spread of germs should not be overlooked. While direct hand to floor contact is not necessarily frequent, floors can transfer germs thought indirect contact.
  • Determine what needs to be disinfected using a product from EPA’s list of approved products that are effective against COVID-19.
  • Consider the resources and commercial cleaning equipment needed, such as cleaning and disinfection products and appropriate PPE.

Implementing a Restaurant Cleaning Plan to Reopen

Not only is cleaning and disinfecting necessary to remove and kill germs, but patrons and employees feel more confident and secure knowing that the restaurant has been deep cleaned and disinfected. Follows are CDC guidelines:

#1 Clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap and water

Clean surfaces and objects using soap and water prior to disinfection. Always wear gloves appropriate for the chemicals being used for routine cleaning and disinfecting. Follow the directions on the disinfectant label for additional PPE needs. When you finish cleaning, remember to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.

For the front of the house, these surfaces may include cleaning indoor window and glass, tabletops, walls, stainless steel and plexiglass barriers, as well as floor and restroom cleaning. If bar surfaces and liquor bottle displays are part of the environment, you’ll need to remove germs from those individual objects.

For the back of the house, you’ll need to consider floor cleaning in addition to cooking surfaces and equipment, such as grills, cooktops and kitchen hoods.

#2 Use the appropriate cleaning or disinfectant product

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed if the right products are used. The EPA has compiled a list of approved disinfectants that can be used against COVID-19, that when applied according to the manufacturer’s label, are effective for use against COVID-19. Follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product. The label will also list precautions such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.

#3 Execute restaurant deep cleaning and disinfecting

Deep cleaning involves floor-to-ceiling cleaning and disinfecting, including surfaces that are frequently touched, such as door handles, touchscreens, seating and restroom faucets. If someone has been infected with COVID-19, staff should wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting, or if 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible. When cleaning and disinfecting begins, staff should follow safe cleaning and disinfection procedures:

  • Put on personal protective equipment (rubber gloves, thick aprons, etc.). PPE should be worn when mixing, cleaning, and disinfecting for COVID-19-related disinfection only.
  • Mix any cleaning and disinfectant solutions in a well-ventilated area. When EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, alternative disinfectants can be used (for example, 1/3 cup of 5.25%–8.25% bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions). Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours.
  • Clean with detergent or soap and water to remove organic matter. Since disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, effective restaurant cleaning is a necessary step to further lower the risk of spreading infection.
  • Include all areas where building occupants are engaged, including kitchens, bars, restrooms, windows and tabletop cleaning.

Resources for Getting Back to Business

As the restaurant industry continues to operate during the pandemic, the National Restaurant Association continues to collaborate with safety experts from government organizations, academia, the public health sector, and corporations to bring restaurant operators the most up-to-date guidelines to ensure safe on- and off-premises dining. Click here for the latest COVID-19 Safe Operating Guidance which incorporates the latest information and best practices from the CDC, FDA, EPA and OSHA. You can also visit RestaurantActs.com for information on what is required in every state, county, or city as it becomes available and as it relates to restaurants and coronavirus measures.

For help evaluating and sourcing which restaurant cleaning equipment can help meet your health and safety standards, contact Unger to learn more about our commercial cleaning products.  

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