Restaurants Canada Hosts Webinar to Help Restaurants Navigate the Impact of COVID-19

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Restaurants Canada has introduced a series of webinars, offering expert advice for restaurant operators and staff on how to safely navigate the myriad changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Jim Gauthier, senior clinical advisor for infection prevention at Diversey, led a discussion centred around the importance of cleaning/disinfection practices in restaurants today and into the future. It also examined the best health-and-safety practices for consumers and employees working in restaurants still offering takeout and delivery service.

“The safety of everyone we serve is always mission critical for the restaurant industry,” said Roberto Sarjoo, director, Marketing & Communications, Restaurants Canada when introducing the webinar. “This is just as true now as it was before the emergence of COVID-19. This webinar will provide insight into understanding cleaning and sanitizing procedures to reduce risk of spread, food-safety precautions for temporarily closed restaurants and knowing what proper procedures [to put] in place if an employee contracts COVID 19.”

After breaking down the science behind the COVID-19 virus, Gauthier shared some measures restaurant owners and staff can take to combat its spread.

“The purpose of [this webinar is] to provide the safest environment, not only for customers, but for staff and to protect your brand reputation. We never want to see a restaurant’s name being linked to an outbreak,” said Gauthier.

He pointed to front-of-house surfaces, such as door handles, dispensers, kiosks and tables as items that need to stay on everyone’s radar when it comes to cleanliness. “It’s stuff that we shouldn’t be doing all the time,” he pointed out, adding “I always wonder about menus. Those are handled and stacked and handled again and stacked. So that’s another area we need to get some focus on during this outbreak.”

When it comes to back-of-house, “If you’re using a manual ware washer, make sure the chemical being dispensed into your sink for sanitizing disinfecting process is working i we can’t trust manual disinfection.”

Other tips include ensuring chlorine levels are adequate and documented as being checked. “And you have to comply with all your food-safety practices that are in place in case viruses like this show up or in case bacteria enter our food preparation areas in terms of disinfectants.”

Gauthier summarized his talk by saying “we have practices in place to make sure our food establishment and the product we produce are safe for both our customers and practices are in place in terms of hand hygiene and regular disinfection for staff.”

Joining Gauthier were Valli Akella, director, Food Safety, Quality & Brand and Domenic Pedulla, CEO, Canadian Food Safety Group.

Akella spoke about food safety and COVID-19 exposure, offering food handler best practices including:
• Respiratory etiquette
• Hand hygiene
• Personal protection (cleaning known contaminated surfaces)
• Cooking food thoroughly
• Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of all common and high-frequency touch-point surfaces

“It’s said when times get tough, the tough get going. And so, the global COVID-19 pandemic is one such tough time that calls for tough decisions and actions, including in restaurants,” she said.

She said while the U.S. Center for Disease Control claims food is not a vehicle for COVID-19, “because it’s protein encapsulated and does not survive the acidity in our stomach. That said, as a proactive measure ─ like we do for all the foodborne diseases ─ we recommend all prepared, cooked or ready-to-eat food handled by someone who’s tested positive, or who has been exposed to COVID-19, should be discarded immediately.”

She also recommends operators assess for hotspots and implement enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols for the entire restaurant. “This means we should ensure all the non-food contact surfaces touched by this person are now made safe again. Jim talked about the highest frequency touch points such as the doorknobs and others of all areas, and equipment, as well as inside all the coolers and freezers. In addition, all the food-contact surfaces that have been touched by this individual should be cleaned and disinfected using approved products.”

The panel also fielded questions, including how to safeguard your food if you move to a delivery model. Advice about best food-safety practices if you’re going to deliver food included avoiding using delivery drivers with any respiratory symptoms when you’re working with third-party food-delivery providers as your backup options; adapting your menu to include dishes that will travel well for takeout or delivery; using tamper-proof packaging for the takeout or delivered food; and ensuring the food-delivery bag is disinfected inside and outside for every delivery.

In addition, operators should look at implementing contactless delivery to minimize the risk of exposure between drivers and the customers.

“Overall, consumers should feel very safe purchasing food through delivery from restaurants,” said Gauthier. “Canada has one of the highest compliance rates in the world as far as food safety. We have excellent public-health inspections. That happens in every province. So, there’s lots of good [policies] that have been in place for a long time that will help us get through this.”

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