Posted on Wednesday, 8th April, 2020
A fundamental responsibility of a business that operates a commercial kitchen is to keep it clean, protecting not just its customers but also the staff who work in it. This should include upholding meticulous hygiene standards for staff alongside a regular and methodical cleaning regime.
In this article, we cover the principles and procedures venue operators should have in place to minimise the risks of COVID-19 contamination in their commercial kitchens.
Together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)—an independent statutory body that works towards a safe food supply for people in Australia and New Zealand—has authored general guidance on managing issues arising from the COVID-19 situation for those working in the food industry. Here we’ve summarised some of their advice and included links for further reading at the end of this article.
Coronaviruses spread when people breathe in infected droplets from a cough or sneeze, or transfer the virus from dirty hands to their face, especially inside the nose or around the eyes.
It’s important to note that coronaviruses, including COVID-19, can survive on surfaces such as bench tops for several days depending on the type of material, temperature and humidity.
Heat from cooking and very hot water, as well as common detergents and sanitisers are effective in destroying these viruses.
Each of the following measures should be standard behaviour for anyone working in a commercial kitchen, but right now they’re more important than ever.
Before handling food, wash your hands thoroughly. This also applies when in between handling raw and cooked foods. Use soap and wash for at least 20 seconds. According to FSANZ, normal soap and warm running water is adequate for hand washing, while hand sanitisers can be used as an additional measure but not as a replacement for hand washing.
While it is believed COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through food, thoroughly cook and carefully handle all meat products as an added precaution.
If you cough or sneeze, you must cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or if one is not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow. Avoid preparing food if you suspect you have symptoms of a respiratory illness. If you are preparing food, keep your distance from anyone else who is coughing or sneezing.
Follow all other basic hygiene standards and avoid smoking, spitting, touching your face or hair, and eating food while preparing meals. Be mindful to wear suitable clothing, including gloves, hairnets and appropriate footwear to maximise hygiene.
The owners and operators of commercial kitchens have an essential role to play in enforcing standards of hygiene. First and foremost is that you and your staff take the COVID-19 situation seriously and ensure procedures such as social distancing are observed at all times.
As an operator, it is your responsibility to provide close supervision of food preparation areas.
You should ensure only food handlers are in food preparation areas. If a food handler has an illness, they should be excluded from food preparation areas and only permitted to return once they have received the appropriate clearance from a doctor.
Education is key to slowing the spread of viruses. Ensure government-endorsed posters, leaflets and videos dealing with health and hygiene practices are readily accessible to your team.
Floors and bench tops, in particular, should be made of materials that are easy to clean. Hand-washing basins that run warm water should be located conveniently, and soap and single-use towels must be provided. Toilets should be positioned in an easy-to-access location.
Effective supervision of food handlers and the areas in which they work will ensure that food does not become contaminated, or if it does or is suspected to be contaminated, it can be removed and disposed as appropriate.
The effective removal of germs such as the COVID-19 virus requires thorough cleaning followed by disinfection. As we know, the virus can survive on surfaces for varying amounts of time due to a range of factors including the degree to which they are contaminated and the prevailing environmental temperature.
Therefore, frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, light switches, power points, table tops and often-used equipment should be cleaned with great regularity using a detergent solution to the manufacturer’s directions.
Surfaces that are less frequently touched such as walls, sinks, blinds and floors should be cleaned when soiled or dusty with a detergent solution or wipes. Note that damp mopping is preferable to dry mopping.
Any surface that is subject to a spillage should be cleaned immediately.
The Australian government’s Department of Health has produced a helpful environmental cleaning and disinfection fact sheet, which can be found here: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-information-about-routine-environmental-cleaning-and-disinfection-in-the-community.
There is a range of further essential practices that fall to food businesses when it comes to maintaining a hygienic kitchen in which food can be safely prepared. Beyond the normal cleaning regime of hot water and detergent, additional cleaning and sanitising of food contact surfaces is required.
This includes table tops, utensils for eating, drinking and food preparation, cooking equipment and any other food contact surface. It is believed the COVID-19 virus cannot survive hot water or sanitisers such as sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide and 70% ethanol.
Cleaning should begin with scraping, wiping and rinsing food residue from utensils, followed by a hot-water wash with detergent and further rinsing. Sanitising can then be carried out in a number of ways. The first option is to use hot water (70 degrees for a minimum of 30 seconds), diluted bleach or 70% alcohol to soak utensils. Alternatively, use a commercial sanitiser or a dishwasher that has the ability to sanitise.
Before placing utensils in a dishwasher, scrape away food residue. Use the correct detergent or sanitiser and ensure water can reach all items in your dishwasher. Select the sanitising cycle and use clean hands to remove items once they’re dry.
- Heightened measures around hygiene and cleaning should be taken to reduce risks.
- Anyone who suspects their symptoms are consistent with a respiratory illness should not prepare food for other people.
- COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for significant lengths of time.
- Social distancing is an effective measure to slow the spread of COVID-19.
- To date there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted through properly prepared food.
- Maintain a regular, mechanical cleaning and sanitising routine.
- Use downtime during this period to deep clean your kitchen and equipment.