In April 2020, consumer credit reporter Experian surveyed more than 1400 consumers in the United States to find out what they were concerned about amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, personal health was top of the list, with 82% worried that COVID-19 would impact their family’s health and 77% saying they were worried about their own health.
In many ways this confirms expectations. Consumers are going to think about their safety much more consciously and frequently in everyday decisions and interactions compared to before the pandemic. And this is going to be the case for a long time to come, with some expecting a generational mental health impact from COVID-19.
Yet, despite this, there will always be businesses caught out by food safety issues. It’s just that now, more than ever, you’ll have to make sure your restaurant is not one of them.
The following advice looks at how foodservice business owners can plan ahead to improve food safety as Australia and New Zealand come out of lockdown.
While post-lockdown policies and guidelines, like WA’s new hygiene measures, will develop over time, the importance of having a strong food safety ground game isn’t going to change.
So it’s a good idea to start with your food safety program (Aus*) or Food Control Plan (NZ**) by bringing forward what would have been an annual review.
An important thing to remember in this process is that there are gains to be made in time-management and efficiency as you review your processes.
Many restaurant owners will use COVID-19 lockdowns as the opportunity to discard old-fashioned processes like using paper-based food safety programs.
By using digital solutions for things like HACCP reporting, your kitchen team could find much more time to focus on food service and maintaining food safety. For example, SKOPE-connect allows users to quickly export temperature data from their smartphones while they work, saving kitchen staff from having to sit down and input the data into an email.
Assuming the kitchen is closed right now, a review of cornerstone processes like food rotation systems is probably going to be more like an informal survey of remaining staff or the kitchen personnel that you’re planning to bring back as soon as possible.
You could even use a free email survey platform to send them a survey they can reply to anonymously.
What you want to uncover are gaps in the system, instances in which labelling or tracking food and the date/time from prepping to plating was ever at risk.
Questions could include:
The reality of what a working commercial kitchen looks and feels like is vastly different to the ideal. Stainless steel doesn’t stay stainless for very long. As fridge manufacturers, we know this because we see it in the condition of the fridges we repair and service.
Time is of the essence in every working kitchen, which can unfortunately place maintenance and cleaning regimes a very distant second to serving customers on the list of priorities.
However, lockdown is the perfect time to tackle this problem by designing a better cleaning regime. It’s also something you’ll have to consider in light of social distancing rules – answering the question of how you and your team can clean safely as well as effectively in the confined space of the kitchen. So it’s an issue that can’t be ignored.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your team will be spending more time cleaning in future. It’s more about prioritising the critical issues and learning from the feedback you gain by analyzing things like your food rotation and labelling. Can you work smarter, not harder?
Food safety relies on critical equipment like refrigeration and blast chillers to preserve the food. Yet, a lot like food safety administration, equipment maintenance often suffers amid the tumult of a busy working kitchen.
Again, now is the time to fix that. By putting in place new responsibilities that make sure things like cleaning out the vents on your food storage fridge are done regularly, you can minimise the chances of equipment failure – reducing food safety risk and saving your business money in the long run.
If possible, dig out the manuals for your key equipment to find out the recommended maintenance actions. You can find SKOPE user manuals online here.
When preparing for the lockdown, you hopefully followed manufacturer advice on shutting down the equipment. Similarly, restarting the key equipment might not be a simple case of just flicking the “on” switch. You need to check the equipment before you use it.
If you encounter an issue with your equipment, don’t waste any time before seeking manufacturer support. If you find an issue with a SKOPE product, contact SKOPE Customer Services.
The eventual requirements at the state and federal level may differ depending on your location.
But when it comes to what post-lockdown dining might look like we can already point to places like Hong Kong, where restaurants are setting up systems for social distancing and have to contend with strict fines if they breach social distancing rules.
Alongside considering space and social distancing, it’s a good bet that restaurants will have to set-up a regular and frequent front of house cleaning regime at each table, potentially after each sitting. Consumers will want reassurance of cleanliness, so this will likely be critically important on a customer experience level.
Every opportunity you can give customers to enhance cleanliness will also play a part, with hand sanitizer likely to be an essential item both in both front and back of house operations for some time to come.
As lockdowns ease and become reduced, make sure to investigate your insurance. This isn’t just a case of making sure you have cost-effective and appropriate coverage. By establishing your potential liability if a customer becomes ill, you can also discover any gaps in the plans you have for your front of house safety regime.
If you can achieve renewed confidence in your food safety, you can return to the market with a key asset worth promoting.
All consumers will be making purchasing decisions based on personal safety, which means the next steps for many restauranteurs will be figuring out how to communicate their food safety advantages effectively.