When you’re running a restaurant, you figure out one thing pretty quickly: your reputation is very, very important. You’ll need to maintain a solid reputation as a safe, reliable place to eat if you want to keep customers coming in through the door. And that means that you need to be very careful when it comes to food safety issues.

Now more than ever, a few bad reviews can really damage your business. Most consumers today spend time researching restaurants online before they go out to eat. If they find a bad review – especially a bad review which mentions food safety concerns – they will not want to patronize your restaurant.

Today, the COVID-19 epidemic has made safety more of a concern than ever. And there are a few extra food safety issues to keep in mind now, due to the pandemic. But if this seems stressful, don’t worry. We’ve got your covered. Keep reading for our rundown of common food safety concerns and how to keep your restaurant safe and healthy, even in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 Concerns

Chopping board with foods

We know that you’re probably working overtime to keep your restaurant safe from the coronavirus. Hopefully you’re already a master of masking, disinfecting, and social distancing. But you may also be wondering whether the virus can be spread through food.

Here’s the good news. The CDC says that COVID-19 does not appear to be spread by handling or consuming food and beverages.

The COVID-19 virus is spread from person to person, especially when somebody coughs, sneezes, or talks. It’s an airborne disease. And yes, it may also spread through surfaces. But the CDC says that’s not the main way the virus spreads. There is no evidence so far to indicate that people can catch COVID by eating food or drinking beverages.

COVID precautions around food

The CDC has some commonsense procedures which should be followed by anyone working in a restaurant. Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water after you go out, or after handling food packages. Make sure that you also wash hands before preparing or handling food. 

What about COVID fatigue?

We know that you’re heard this safety advice before. But we’re saying it again, because we also know that many people today are experiencing COVID fatigue. We’re all getting tired of taking so many precautions. Unfortunately, COVID fatigue can lead to  carelessness. And carelessness can lead to disaster.

As a restaurant owner, it’s your job to motivate your staff to stay on track. Don’t let them give in to COVID fatigue. It may be a good idea to offer your staff small rewards (like an extra short break, or a treat) as an incentive for staying on top of the COVID-19 related precautions. Small rewards go a long way to combat COVID fatigue.

What causes food poisoning?

Food poisoning can be spread through any and all contaminated foods. Meat, poultry, and animal products (like eggs and milk) can all cause food poisoning; so can shellfish. A contaminated food carrier can also spread food poisoning. Food poisoning can range from mild to severe. In its mildest forms, it causes discomfort for a few hours, or for a few days. But severe food poisoning can be fatal, especially when it occurs in an elderly consumer.

In other words, food poisoning is something you should be extremely cautious about. Fortunately, it’s also pretty easy to avoid, as long as you follow some simple rules.

What’s new about these precautions?

We know that you’ve probably heard these rules before. But in today’s environment, many of us have been so focused on the COVID-19 outbreak that it’s easy to forget about the other, very real food safety issues that persist.

Unfortunately, food poisoning continues to be a major issue for Americans. The CDC says that about 48 million Americans experience some symptoms of food poisoning every year. Around 3000 people die from food poisoning every year.

The most vulnerable people are pregnant women, children younger than 5, and adults older than 65. For those groups, food poisoning could be life threatening. That’s why it’s so important to always take the right precautions.

Work with a trusted supplier

Food can be contaminated long before it reaches your restaurant or hits the supermarket shelves. Contamination can take place at the processing plant, or during the slaughtering process. Shellfish and produce can also spread disease if they came in contact with infected water.

What does that mean for you? Primarily, it means that you need to be vigilant about your supplier. Make sure you know exactly where you food is coming from. Scrutinize your supply chain at every stage, and only work with vendors who you trust.

Food storage, made simple

Food stored in crates and nets

You can really sum up food storage rules in one, simple phrase: keep your hot foods hot, and your cold foods cold. Contamination commonly takes place when food is undercooked or is improperly reheated; it’s also spread by poor preservation techniques, like when foods are incorrectly canned or cured.

In your restaurant, you need to make sure that any food on buffet tables is kept hot – it should be at least 140F at all times. When you store food for later use, make sure it’s refrigerated right away. Always defrost food in the refrigerator instead of at room temperature.

Cooking to the right temperature

Good chefs know that there are some basic rules of thumb to follow when it comes to making healthy, delicious dishes that won’t get anyone sick.

Ground beef should always be cooked to 160F, and steaks, roasts, and chops should be cooked to at least 145F. Chicken and turkey should be cooked to 165F. Fish and shellfish should always be cooked thoroughly too.

Cleaning as you go

We’ve talked about washing your hands regularly, but what about the rest of your restaurant?

  • Cleaning your restaurant will go a long way to keep your environment safe and healthy. Now, we know that you’re probably carrying out a good disinfection routine as part of your COVID-19 safety measures. However, you also need to be vigilant about cleaning food and food waste. You want to be sure to avoid cross-contamination and to ensure that old food does not come into contact with fresh food.
  • Train your staff to clear food right away and to keep food waste separate from freshly cooked food.
  • Keep up a routine of wiping down counters and all surfaces that come into contact with food regularly. That includes prep pans, knives, ovens, grills, and flat tops. You want to make sure that you’re cleaning and removing all food residue from your surfaces.
  • Make sure that your staff is doing the dishes regularly. This should be an ongoing process, carried out throughout the day. All of your cutlery, plates, and glassware should be routinely sanitized.
  • Try and develop a set routine around these activities. As much as possible, they should be automatic for your staff.

What happens if food poisoning occurs

If you follow these precautions, then you should be safe from food poisoning. Working with trusted suppliers, following temperature guidelines, and maintaining a clean environment should go a long way toward protecting you and your customers from illness.

But let’s be honest. We don’t live in a perfect world, and accidents do happen. Even in the best-run restaurants, it’s possible that there could be a food poisoning incident. So what do you do if food poisoning does occur?

Be proactive about sharing information

Your customers will appreciate it if you are honest with them. And frankly, your customers will probably resent you if you try to keep secrets from them. So if there is a food poisoning incident at your restaurant, be up front about it. Let your customers know right away, and keep them informed about any and all developments.

This is the time to take to social media and post updates. Of course, those updates should include plenty of information about how you are correcting any problems at your restaurant. Let your followers know about your new and improved food safety plan. Post pictures of your cleaning routines! While it may seem tempting to say nothing, for fear of drawing negative attention to yourself, that is not the right approach. The fact is, your customers are already going to find out if there’s an issue with your restaurant. They’ll read about it in negative reviews, or on Facebook.

So if there’s a problem, get out in front of it and stay on top of things. Your customers will thank you for it. Building and maintaining their trust is the best way to keep their loyalty and get them back in your restaurant.

Final thoughts

Food safety is more important now than ever. Today’s customers are eager to get back to restaurant dining, after all the COVID-related restrictions. But they’re still feeling extra cautious and, in some cases, even anxious about whether it’s safe to eat out again.

This is the time to step up your food safety protocols and to really reassure your customers about the precautions you’re taking. Use your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to walk your followers through all of your precautionary measures so that they’ll feel confident when they walk through your restaurant door. 

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