The following recommendations from the CDC can help reduce the spread of viruses while working in the food service industry:
1. Cover your mouth and nose, when coughing and sneezing
Viruses can transmit through the air. When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, throw the soiled tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to protect against viruses. Proper handwashing involves three steps.
• Use soap, preferably liquid soap; bar soap can transmit pathogens.
• Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. (Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.) Why that long? A virus can cling to the skin and be hard to remove.
• Dry your hands with a disposable towel. That may not sound environmentally friendly, but multiuse cloth towels can become a source of contamination. It is not recommended that you wipe your hands on your jeans or shake wet hands in the air.
A hand sanitizer helps but is not a substitute for handwashing. Hand sanitizers are not as effective at removing some virus particles – norovirus, for example.
Wearing disposable gloves cannot substitute for handwashing. Gloves are used to protect us, but do not let them become a source of contamination. Once the virus contacts gloves, it can travel with the gloves. Dispose of used gloves and change them often. Between glove changes, you will need to wash your hands to avoid crosscontamination.
3. Contact surface cleaning and sanitization
Viruses can survive on furniture surfaces, such as door handles or tables, for two weeks. If you are unsure whether you should touch the surface, start with these two steps: cleaning and sanitizing. We recommend cleaning and sanitizing in a 25-foot circle.
First, wipe the surface with disposable towels immersed in soap and water, then dry the surface with dry disposable towels. Remember that if the surface was contaminated with a virus, the soiled towel could become a new contamination source. Dispose of the used towel. Second, sanitize the surface by applying a bleach solution or other disinfectant approved by EPA. Follow the instruction on labels when using bleach or other disinfectant, including how to dilute it, use it, and if a rinse step is required.
Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other items with a person who is confirmed to have, or being evaluated for COVID-19.
4. Food safety
Viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A, can be transmitted through contaminated food and can survive the cooking process. Viral contamination typically occurs when a food handler infected with a virus has direct (i.e. bare hand) contact with ready-to-eat foods. Ready-to-eat foods are foods that can be eaten without additional preparation, washing, or cooking, such as any cooked food, washed fruits and vegetables, deli meats, bread, and desserts. Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms related to viral illnesses that must be reported by the affected employee to the food service’s manager to assure that the employee does not return to work until it is safe to do so. This reporting process is a required component of every food service establishment’s Employee Health Policy.
If you would like to verify the completeness of your facility’s existing Employee Health Policy or need to develop one, the Georgia Department of Public Health offers an Employee Health RED book in English, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese as a guide.
As for coronavirus, the FDA stated on February 27, 2020 that they “are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.”
And, if you think a food item might be contaminated with a virus or other harmful microorganism, it’s always best to throw it out.
5. When necessary, avoid preparing food for others
Though it is challenging, sometimes you have to say “no” to food handling at home and at work, especially when you feel sick and suspect your health condition may be related to a virus infection. If you are your family’s primary food preparer or are working in a food establishment, you are one of the most important persons when it comes to protecting your family or your customers from illness. If you feel sick, stop preparing food, and seek help.
For updates and more information, visit CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html