Cleanliness is nothing new to the food service industry. It can make or break a business on a normal day. Now with COVID-19, cleanliness is on everybody’s mind, from covering your cough, to not touching your face with clean hands, to the simple act of washing hands. But you’re already an expert about those things, along with not cross-contaminating surfaces, keeping clean and dirty separate, and using proper cleaning techniques.

One of the few facts about the novel coronavirus that is known, without a doubt, is that it is a respiratory virus – it is not considered to be a foodborne illness by the CDC. The same proactive steps such as staying home when sick, proper hand washing and thorough disinfecting can help mitigate the risk of getting yourself or others sick. There are some things you should have in place to be sure that you are covering all the bases in cleanliness.

You probably already have one, but if not, be sure to create a cleaning plan. Whether a staff person is new or simply tired from a huge shift, it is easy to miss those little details that seem obvious. Some equipment may have quirks or pieces that require special instructions for proper cleaning. The plan should also include a list of tools, supplies, cleaning products, or chemicals to assist employee and in ensuring the job is done right every time. There should be daily, weekly, and monthly checklists along with which position does the cleaning, while including additional items such as sharpening knives as appropriate for your establishment. When employees are provided a checklist with guidance and information, they are more likely to complete the task consistently.

Often missed items on the cleaning list include can openers, dispenser nozzles (soda, catsup and other condiments), highchairs, booster seats, menus, ice machine accessories, anything on the table, under the table (yes, gum still ends up there), touchscreens, and cash registers (drawers, buttons). Easy to miss, yes. Most of the items can do with a simple daily cleaning, while other items like the can opener should be cleaned each time they are used (especially if you run allergy-free menus). On the other hand, for times of COVID-19, things like menus absolutely should be cleaned each time they are used or simply switch to a give-away paper menu for now.

What should be added during this COVID-19 pandemic? Primarily, be sure to check with your state and local health departments for the most current information and about the virus in your community. Typically, the current structure and information suggests cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces with high-touch traffic. This would include counters, doorknobs, toilets, push plates, switches, railings, sink and faucets, phones, cash registers, tables, and chairs. Some restaurants have taken extra precautions and simply removed all items from counters and tables so that take-out customers remember the rules in place.

If a customer or employee experiences a ‘bodily fluid event’ it will be important to ensure the employee cleaning it up is using proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Keep the area inaccessible until it has been sanitized. Ensure that exposed food is disposed, and that exposed dishes or utensils are sanitized. Then, be sure that the employee properly disposes of items used to clean the area. These expectations are similar to Norovirus sanitation guidelines.

A seemingly easy, though perhaps ‘boring’ aspect of all of this, is the value of reiterating cleanliness procedures with employees, including training. Afterward, be sure to reinforce the standards you expect according to regular procedures, then adding extra tasks during times of a pandemic will be a cinch.  

During this unpredictable time in our history as a world, each community is finding its way through tough times. The common goal of restaurants is to protect their customers and employees from this terrible disease, and to continue running their business. By pulling together and sharing prevention tips with each other, we will see normalcy return.