Changes to Australia's strict social distancing measures will start small but any easing is at least four weeks off as the battle with coronavirus continues. It is unlikely that the government is going to allow hospitality businesses to reopen fully over the next four to six weeks, it is likely however that restrictions will be relaxed. It is unclear at present what these reduced restrictions will look like and will largely depend on 3 key points being enacted prior to restrictions being lifted.
Taking to Twitter on Saturday 18th April 2020, the prime minister said the government will be seeking the “cooperation and support” of Australians to download a tracing app to help health workers, protect the community and help get the economy going again. Further to this, more extensive testing for the virus will be initiated and parameters for faster local response to outbreaks will be drafted.
At this time, it is important to get ahead of the game and start thinking about how to reopen your food business!
There may be the possibility of another outbreak, therefore we need to think about how we can operate our food businesses safely and responsibly. The safety of staff and patrons will be paramount that this transitional time and there are several measures that should be considered, before reporting your doors to the public.
STEP 1 Communication
“Open communication and education with staff prior to reopening Ensure your staff are aware of how important it is that the business has a plan in place to manage the risk of COVID -19 and how important it is they stick to the plan”.
Communicate to your staff about COVID-19 symptoms and emphasise that any sickness must be reported to management
- You must have clear COVID-19 Staff Protocols in place and staff must be trained in these. These should include clear reporting parameters including exposure protocols and testing requirements.
- If your staff are unable to work, make sure you understand the importance of looking after their welfare. Help them get what they need - direct them to the appropriate government agency or health provider.
Communicate with staff and come up with a plan for social distancing whilst at work
- How will staff move through areas of the business whilst staying 1.5 meters apart from other staff and customers? This includes things such as; restricting occupancy, rearrange furniture and limiting the amount of staff onsite.
Communicate with staff to emphasise the importance of personal hygiene practices while at work.
- Wash & dry hands thoroughly and often using soap, water, and paper towels.
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue or into their elbow
- Sanitise hands regularly especially after touching money, EFTPOS machine, and POS terminal
Retrain staff about the importance of cleaning and sanitising surfaces and equipment.
- Cleaning is removing dirt and grease (use detergent-based cleaning products)
- Sanitising is killing bacteria and pathogens left on surfaces (use approved surface sanitisers – always follow directions provided for your food grade sanitiser and dilute correctly).
You should also consider setting up a Cleaning and Sanitising Program detailing what needs to be cleaned/sanitised, how this is done and timeframes for recurrence. This can be in digital or paper form.
STEP 2 – Kitchen and Equipment Checks
Let’s face it, the kitchen has been closed for quite sometime, there are certain things that will need to be done to ensure that this can be reopened safely.
- Full clean down – this was probably done when you shut down. Still, a full clean down is a good way to refamiliarize yourself with your kitchen, start at the ceiling, including all vents, fans and lighting and work your way down to the floor cleaning and sanitising all equipment as you go.
- Pest Inspection – get you pest control agent to come and do a full service prior to reopening. Check all dry goods left in storage for the duration of the shutdown and discard any contaminated goods. Reset all baits and ensure these are mapped by your pest control technician.
- Flush water pipes by running each tap for a few minutes.
- Clean out all drains using an appropriate cleaning agent such as caustic soda to remove any residue build-up.
- Mobile food outlets (food trucks) should flush the water system and clean, sanitise & rinse water tanks.
- Power up cold storage equipment – It is important that this is done after the full clean has taken place, this ensure that all dust, debris and mildew has been removed. It may be necessary to get a technician to flush out refrigeration condensers etc toe ensure they work effectively. Turn on all cold storage equipment and ensure that it is working effectively. This can be done by placing a cup of water in each device and monitoring the temperature of the water with a probe thermometer. Once temperatures of 5℃ are achieved for refrigeration devices, food items can then be stored safely. Also check freezers are running effectively. Temperatures of these devices should be below -15℃.
- Check the calibration of all temperature monitoring devices to ensure these are working effectively.
- Check stored food items, it may well have only been 4 weeks since we were forced to shut but food spoilage could still have occurred. Check frozen food items for signs of deterioration, check used by dates on all food items, checked for damaged packaging and other potential contamination and discard any food that is not viable.
- Fire up all gas fed equipment – re-engage gas and relight all pilots, run ovens gas hobs, salamanders, grills etc for a few minutes and check that these are working correctly, any equipment that fails should be repaired by a suitably competent technician.
- Run a cleaning cycle on combination steamers and then run at full steam and full convection for ½ hour each to get the unit back into operational condition
- Start-up dish and glass washers, fill tanks and reconnect chemical feeders, run a few cycles to ensure that chemical feeders are maintaining correct dosage and that temperatures of wash and rinse cycles are being achieved (62℃ for wash and 85℃ for rinse). This will be a good time to get your service technician in to run a service on this equipment. If required, run a descale cycle on each unit to get them sparking clean.
- Ice Machines should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised, check with a torch all seals, corners and internals for mould and other debris before re-starting the machines.
- Bain Maries should also be run to ensure they reach correct temperatures, to hold food safely.
- Turn on all heat lamps to check if they are working effectively.
- Run the extraction hood and give this a good clean. Check the flue first, pest or birds may have taken up residence during the shutdown period.
STEP 3 – Pre-Opening
Preparing your operation to receive customers is an important aspect of this process. Public perception is a powerful tool and if the public perceive you are doing everting in your power to keep them safe, you will become a trusted counterpart to their daily lives.
Clean and sanitise:
- All surfaces, utensils and equipment regularly, this must include all customer areas and surfaces
- Ensure high-risk zones are included: door handles, taps, EFTPOS terminal, mobile phones, chair backs, hand soap dispensers, hand washbasins.
- Consider putting signs on all tables telling the customer that the table is cleaned every 30 minutes or after every serving
- Consider the process for laundering cleaning cloths regularly or will disposable cloths be used.
Further to this:
- Develop a cleaning schedule to clearly communicate procedures (clean what, how, how often?)
- Ensure staff are trained in cleaning and regularly supervised.
- Everyone needs to keep washing their hands and hand-sanitiser needs to be provided for both staff and customers. Basic Hygiene will be more important than ever. See link for print adds form the Department of Health: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-print-ads-good-hygiene-is-in-your-hands
- Give customers the opportunity to clean their hands before eating. Provide portable hand sanitising stations or provide hand sanitising wipes.
Promote social distancing protocols:
- Use signs detaining what social distancing means, see signs from Safe Work Australis: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/signage-and-posters-covid-19
- Place distancing indicators on the ground at points of safe and line up areas
Communicate to your suppliers about COVID-19 symptoms and risks:
- Ensure that food handlers and external contractors/suppliers are aware of the risks associated with COVID-19 and that they must report any signs/symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work.
- It is even more essential to check the temperature of the delivered chilled items, delivery companies are likely to be extremely busy and the business’s food could be on the truck for longer than usual. If the chilled compartment is opened often this can cause the temperature to rise, potentially putting the contents of the chiller at risk of being in the temperature danger zone.
- Considering recording the contact details of your suppliers (just like you should with customers) when they deliver items for traceability purposes.
- Try to avoid having too much food on-site while the country is in an alert stage. If the government has to re-impose strict measures again the business could be stuck with food that cannot be sold.
- Wireless Temperature Sensors - Take the guesswork out of your food safety temperature checks and also monitor your valuable stock.
- Bluetooth Probes - Should be considered for food deliveries (for stock coming in) and food orders going out to customers.
Use social media to communicate with your customers:
- Think about using E-Vouchers so that regular customers and the community can access your services if you are not able to fully open straight away.
- Remind your customers that you need them for your business to survive.
- Promote the use of contactless payment: PayWave, Apple Pay, Internet Banking.
- Promote ways in which you are actively protecting them such as upscaled cleaning and sanitising provisions, additional staff training etc.
- Promote that all staff will be signed up to the COVID-19 tracing app released by the Australian Government.
Look at delivery options:
- There will still be restrictions in place and the high probability the country will only drop back to alert level 2 or 3. Restaurants are unlikely to be allowed to offer dine-in services or will have to severely restrict the number of customers in the premises at any one time, for example, they may only be able to allow one person in at a time or only offer takeaway meals (social distancing will be applied).
- Remember there will be an influx of food businesses using delivery services so what is your point of difference? Maybe a happy hour for online orders or coupons for discounts?
- Consider what changes you might need to make to your Food Control Plan to allow you to carry out deliveries.
Ensure food safety records are maintained:
- Ensure all validation records including cold and hot storage monitoring, cleaning and sanitising schedules, time temperature logging and wastage are maintained. Going digital with this will ensure that nothing is missed or lost during this transition period.