How to Prevent Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Your Restaurant

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January 26, 2020
Restaurant Coronavirus Exposure Plan
March 15, 2020

How to Prevent Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Your Restaurant

by on March 08, 2020
How to Prevent Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Your Restaurant

There is a lot of consumer uncertainty around novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and if restaurants are safe places to be for customers and employees. It is true that restaurants and food service operations are at risk of being places where viruses can spread. They can also be liable if customers contract an illness or virus while dining in establishments. Now with coronavirus becoming more widespread, it’s more important than ever to have plans in place to protect your brand, customers, and staff.

Coronavirus is a communicable disease that is very contagious and can be easily spread from person to person and through inadequate sanitizing of contaminated surfaces. Information about coronavirus transmission, virulence, and methods to contain and eliminate it continues to be updated. Even though we are still learning about it, we have enough information to build plans and make them flexible enough to reflect any new information.

There are two main ways coronavirus or other infectious diseases can enter your restaurant — employees or customers. Either of these can easily impact the other and put your restaurant in jeopardy. Plans must address preventing disease transmission from either employees or customers.

Create a Plan of Action for Coronavirus

Guidelines must be followed to prevent spreading germs and to protect your customers and staff. Here are guidelines that are based on the best knowledge available today and what we know about the spread of communicable disease.

Preventing Customer Transmission

Infected customers may not know they are sick and contagious when entering your restaurant. It just takes one infected person to compromise the health and well-being of other customers and employees. At the very least, employee hand washing and strict sanitizing of customer areas are the best line of defense against a sick customer. Everything customers come in contact with can be a vehicle for disease transmission. Plans should address cleaning and sanitizing in all areas of possible contamination, including but not limited to these areas:

  • Door handles, railings, order stations, restrooms, and self-serve beverage stations — these should be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
  • Plates, glasses, utensils, and menus — clean and sanitize these after each use. Employees must wash hands after contact with these items.
  • Tables and chairs should be wiped down and sanitized after each use.
  • Remove any condiments, table tents, or other items that may stay on the table and be exposed to customers. This can be a vehicle for disease transmission.
  • Don’t seat your restaurant to capacity. Limit the number of people in the restaurant at the same time — take into account the number of customers and employees.
  • Refillable containers that customers bring in for beverages or food should be treated differently. Create a barrier from the customer container and any food or clean equipment. Sanitize that barrier after each use and have employees wash hands after contact.
  • In areas of known community spread cases, it might be necessary to take the temperature of customers at the door. Anyone with a temperature over 100ºF shouldn’t be allowed to enter, but let them order food to go. This is a drastic measure that should only be implemented if the virus is widespread in the community.

Preventing Employee Transmission

Maintaining a healthy workforce is the most important priority for every food service operation. If you don’t have a healthy staff, then you can’t run an effective operation. Only one sick employee can spread the illness to other staff and customers and ultimately cripple the business. Protect your healthy staff from the sick ones by following these guidelines.

  • Enforce a strict employee sick policy. No one should work with flu-like symptoms for at least 7 days after symptoms subside.
  • Regular hand washing with soap, hot water, and disposable towels is essential, especially after using the restroom. Use hand sanitizer only if hand washing isn’t available — but not in place of it!
  • Wear gloves when handling food and clean equipment. Wash hands at every glove change.
  • Be vigilant with employee hygiene. Coach employees on not touching their face, hair, mouth, etc.
  • Don’t allow employees to keep personal food or drinks in food prep and storage areas.
  • No hand shaking, hugs, etc. Respect personal space for everyone.
  • In known community spread areas, take temperatures of employees before starting work. Send anyone home if their temperature is over 100ºF or have flu-like symptoms.

All restaurants should have a solid sick employee policy. Sick employees should stay home, and restaurant owners and managers should not allow sick employees to work. Employees who have been sick shouldn’t return to work until they’re free of symptoms for at least 24 hours. In affected areas, be more aggressive with employee health surveillance. Watch for symptoms, and stay up to date on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for how to prevent coronavirus spread in communities. Be vigilant with employee hygiene. Coughs and sneezes should be covered. For specific steps and more hand-washing techniques for your staff, check out our article here: Hand Washing Techniques for Restaurant Food Handlers.

Sanitizing to Prevent Coronavirus

To prevent coronavirus and other diseases, general cleaning is good, but sanitizers are necessary to stop the spread of disease. So far, there isn’t good information on which sanitizer is the best to combat coronavirus, so keep using your current sanitizer until we know more. However, it’s important to know the correct sanitizer concentration and to check it regularly with test strips. Sanitizer buckets or spray bottles should be switched out every 2–3 hours to maintain effectiveness.

All prep and storage areas need to be sanitized regularly. Have a sanitizer bucket in each area that’s used to sanitize surfaces between tasks. Note that cleaning and sanitizing are not the same, and you can’t sanitize any surface without cleaning first. Sanitizing involves using chemicals (such as quaternary ammonia or chlorine) or heat (165° F or hotter) to reduce harmful organisms on surfaces and equipment.

An effective coronavirus vaccine is still a good year to a year and a half away. These coronavirus prevention plans will need to stay in place for at least that long. Having an effective flexible plan will keep your customers and staff safe and confident that your restaurant is a safe place to be. This in turn will ensure the health and well-being of the business. As coronavirus spreads, it will become more of a priority to establish and maintain aggressive employee illness and sanitizing practices. Stay ahead of the outbreak and implement your plan now.

Here are some additional links for more information on disinfection and guidance for businesses from the CDC:

Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations

Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers


Dennis Keith on LinkedinDennis Keith on Twitter
Dennis Keith
With more than 25 years in the restaurant industry, Dennis is passionate about helping restaurant professionals improve their businesses, whether it be for food safety, training, sustainability, sourcing new technologies for restaurants or connecting service providers with restaurant operators. You can learn more about Dennis by connecting with him on LinkedIn and Twitter (@fsnfoodsafety and @resprofsp).

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