Restaurant Surfaces and COVID-19: What To Know
Though food safety isn’t a new concern for restaurant operators, COVID-19 intensifies it. As these operators begin re-opening, they’ll likely have their minds more focused on food safety, and their guest’s perception of it, than ever before. One particular area of post-COVID cleanliness that has many restaurateurs flummoxed is their restaurant surfaces and how to protect and disinfect them properly. Here’s our guide to restaurant surfaces, the role they play in the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to keep them clean.
How Does COVID-19 Spread?
According to the Mayo Clinic, COVID-19 spreads via respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Many choose to wear masks in public to stifle this spread. What’s less clear is whether or not the virus can spread via surface contact, and if it can, should we be worried?
It is remotely possible to get the virus from touching a surface if you were to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes immediately after — but even in these circumstances, it’s not believed to be the primary way the virus spreads. So, while you should keep your restaurant surfaces clean as good practice, they aren’t the “frontline” for the virus. Still, it’s essential to understand how bacteria interact with surfaces in your restaurant so you can mitigate their spread.
How Long Can the Virus Live on Surfaces?
A recent study found that the COVID-19 Coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Generally, non-porous surfaces keep the virus alive for longer, and from the kitchen to the dining and area and the bathroom, restaurants are laden with them.
Be Proactive and Preventative
It’s best not to wait until you suspect something is contaminated, but to establish a culture of proactive sanitation. Make your disinfecting and sanitation plan a regular part of your training in the same way you’d train on any kitchen or customer service protocol.
Though infection through surface contact is rare, the primary human vehicle for it is the hands. Reinforce proper hand hygiene in your restaurant, including posted documentation of hand-washing etiquette (20 seconds, warm soap and water). Don’t hesitate to create recurring notifications or reminders to prompt your staff to wash their hands.
Routine employee health checks help you take a proactive stand in reducing your restaurant’s risk of spreading the virus. You can perform temperature checks before a shift, or by routinely asking employees to examine how they feel and document. If anything feels “off,” allow them to take the day.
Food Service Hand Hygiene
- Wet your hands with clean running water.
- Lather with soap, and rub your hands away from running water
- Lightly scrub between fingers and on the backs of hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse thoroughly with cool water, and dry your hands with single-use paper or electric hand dryer.
- Select disposable gloves designed for the specific application and in the appropriate size.
- Wear a new pair of gloves whenever moving to a new task.
- Don and doff disposable gloves in a safe way.
- Dispose of gloves immediately after becoming contaminated (i.e. touching dirty surfaces or objects, sneezing or coughing)
Training and Technology
The best way to ensure a hygiene-centric culture in your restaurant is to continually reinforce it and train with it as part of your standard operating procedures. With the unfortunate reality of restaurant turnover, you can ensure some consistency in your cleaning standards by keeping your restaurant employee handbook up to date, and by referring to it often.
If you employ feature-rich restaurant technology, like a kitchen display system or restaurant management platform, many will allow you to program it to send out reminders. You can use these to prompt staff members, directly on the screen, to wash hands, wipe surfaces, or any other cleaning tasks.
What to Use?
To disinfect the surfaces in your restaurant correctly, seek disinfectants with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered “Hard/Contact Surface” disinfectant. You might also try those disinfectants with an EPA “emerging viral pathogen” claim. These purport to slow the spread of viruses that, like COVID-19, are still developing.
Though most disinfectants work the same way, follow the label instructions on using them. Try to pay attention to how long you should wait between disinfecting a surface and using it again. When you clean any surface, especially food-contact surfaces like a counter, thoroughly rinse it with potable water after using disinfectants.
Where to Disinfect
Try to list every surface that you touch on a routine day. It is staggering! The same goes for your restaurant. It’s full of high-contact surfaces, from the guest-facing side to the back.
Whenever you’re working with food, you want to be aware of what’s coming in contact with what. Fortunately, Coronavirus isn’t truly a foodborne virus, but you should still take note of the surfaces you’ve got in your back-of-house.
Some of the surfaces to routinely disinfect in your kitchen include:
- Food-contact surfaces like counters and sinks.
- Handles on coolers, freezers, pots, and pans.
The Dining Room
With many restaurants opening, with limited capacity, to dine-in service, you’ll want to consider all the variables that guests present. You can run a tight ship with your staff, but you have less control over there.
Some of the dining room surfaces to disinfect regularly include:
- Door handles.
- Push plates.
- Light and air-control switches.
- Menus (if they’re not disposable).
- Tabletops (remove food first, then wash, rinse, and sanitize).
- Stacked plates.
- Scoops and tongs.
- Any other utensils that are set out and not covered.
The Front or Service Station
One of the most vital elements to consider here is that of payment. Many restaurants are employing contactless payment solutions to allay customer fears about currency and cards passing through multiple hands.
Some of the surfaces at the front or service station which you need to disinfect regularly include:
- The service station itself.
- The bar.
- The lobby counters.
- The point-of-sale terminals.
- Touchscreens and pagers, too. (Be careful not to damage electronics. Don’t spray disinfectants directly onto them, but upon the cloth, you use to clean them).
- Kiosks (if you have them).
With or without a global pandemic, restaurant hygiene ranks high in guests’ minds for any business they frequent. There virtually isn’t a surface in your restroom which you shouldn’t be disinfecting regularly, but as quick tasks, focus on:
- The toilet flusher/handle.
- Sinks and faucets.
- Soap or soap dispensers.
From time to time, you’ll want to deep-clean your restaurant, because routine disinfecting will only go so far. When you’re deep cleaning, you’ll want to take everything off of the tables to disinfect the surfaces properly. You’ll also want to be careful not to contaminate any food products and consider all the granular surfaces in your restaurant. For example, if salt and pepper shakers are at the tables, empty them before cleaning and allow them to air dry before refilling. The EPA considers tabletops to be a food contact surface, so if you disinfect the table surface, you’ll need to follow by washing, rinsing, and sanitizing.
What Can You Add to Your Restaurant?
To create cleaner surfaces and a hygiene-minded staff, you should ensure that all hand sinks are accessible to staff at every station of your restaurant. Make those sinks most effective, keep them stocked adequately with soap and paper towels, and be sure they have functional warm water. Try to keep the same vigilance over the sinks and faucets in the guest bathrooms, as hand-washing, will increase across the spectrum.
Remember also that you might go through cleaning supplies a bit more frequently now, so consider using technology to manage your inventory and buy in bulk to save. You don’t want to be in a situation without them, so always try to purchase new supplies before running out.
Finally, post signage in your restaurant, reminding staff to wash their hands and proper techniques. Signs might seem like a small measure, but they cover every base in ensuring you create a culture of cleanliness.
COVID-19, Restaurant Surfaces and You— Concluded
Keep in mind that Coronavirus is a respiratory virus and not a foodborne illness. Still, similar proactive steps such as not working when sick, proper hand-washing, and thorough disinfecting can help mitigate the risk of spreading it.
How has the pandemic altered your course? Click the link below for our page containing helpful restaurant resources for the COVID-19 outbreak.
About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is the Content Marketing Manager at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write, draw and paint. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.