July 13, 2020

OP-ED: Are Restaurants Prepared for Staff and Public Safety?


Much to the relief of embattled restauranteurs and patrons fed up with home cooking, the long-awaited guidelines for restaurant reopening has arrived. Now it’s up to restaurants to ensure their staff and diners’ safety.

According to Frederic Robichon, Food and Beverage Industry Expert Advisor at Biodx, “The South African food and beverage industry are very professional and diligent, already applying HAACP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) principals and COVID-19 disinfection procedures to reinforce good food and beverage practices during this pandemic.”

Biodx is on a journey to reduce society’s dependence on synthetic chemicals. Harnessing the power of biotechnology, and with technical support from the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) as well as financial support from TIA (Technology Innovation Agency) and IDC (Industrial Development Corporation), they have spent the last 15 years researching and developing cutting edge antimicrobial and antiviral technologies, proven in field trials to be between 8% and 52% more effective than conventional disinfecting chemicals.

They take a closer look at just how new COVID-19 disinfection procedures should look – but have also noted that some of the guidelines perhaps needed more thought.

Restaurants must conduct a screening questionnaire on guests and can refuse admission if they think the guest is a safety risk.

This will require extra time and effort but restaurants are as desperate to stay open as we are to eat there a questionnaire is a small ask. But knowing if a guest is a safety risk is tricky. They can be infected and feel absolutely nothing (i.e. be asymptomatic) after all.

No person can enter the restaurant without a cloth mask or any homemade item that covers the nose and mouth.

Unless the mask completely closes around the nose and mouth it’s basically useless so a ‘homemade item’ may not be safe.

Masks must be worn at all times except when eating and drinking.

Sorry, but what do people spend more than 70% of their time in a restaurant doing? This is where the distance rule is most important. “There’s no reason a family shouldn’t feel perfectly safe going out to eat together if they live in the same house. But they have to feel they can trust the quality of the restaurant’s disinfection and the staff’s compliance to the restaurant’s behaviour protocols,” explains Burt Rodrigues, CEO of Biodx.

All guests must sanitise before entering the premises.

As in previous articles1 Biodx has done on sanitising, not all sanitisers are equal, so hopefully, restaurants will check the quality and safety of the sanitisers and disinfecting products they’re using to keep the diners safe.

There must be at least 1.5 metres between the customer and the service counter as well as queuing customers. Customers should also be seated 1.5 metres apart and the waiting staff to stand at least a metre from the table.

The problem here for the beleaguered restauranteur is being able to have enough diners to cover his costs and hopefully make a profit, particularly with a booze ban in place. But it is an important rule and essential to keep the diners safe.

Restaurants should CONSIDER a reservation system to ensure capacity limits.

Restaurants are desperate for trade so this is highly unlikely unless the CoronaVirus restaurant police became a reality.

Menus to be replaced with non-touch options or sanitised after each use.

Writing on a blackboard here would make sense or perhaps throwaway paper menus.

Tables must be sanitised before and after each guest.

Easy to stick to but again what type of sanitiser/disinfectant will be used?

No self-service buffets are allowed.

Easy one.

And what about alcohol?

The most difficult one by far is no alcohol to be served.

Airconditioning & airflow

There seems to be some confusion around numbers allowed in restaurants at this point but even with safe distancing when it comes to inside seating there are certain issues in terms of a restaurant’s airflow. (This could apply to any air-conditioned environment – restaurants, offices, retail shops, hospitals…) The diagram below (taken from an article2 by Professor Erin Bromage PhD, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, clearly illustrates just how easily a virus can circulate when air conditioning is involved. As we’re now in winter and with very few local restaurants apart from hotels, even having air conditioning, this may not be an issue but it’s interesting to note how the virus can travel.

The infected person (A1) sat at a table and had dinner with 9 friends. Dinner took about 1 to 1.5 hours. During this meal, the asymptomatic carrier released low-levels of the virus into the air from their breathing. Airflow (from the restaurant’s various airflow vents) was from right to left. Approximately 50% of the people at the infected person’s table became sick over the next 7 days. 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table became infected. And even 2 of the 7 people on the upwind table were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow). No one at tables E or F became infected, they were out of the main airflow from the air conditioner on the right to the exhaust fan on the left of the room.

As Robichon adds, “The guidelines are effectively very similar to the good food and beverage practices specified during this pandemic time. So governments and the public need to trust our food and beverage professionals to run their businesses, carry out training and create required hygiene protocols to ensure staff and public safety. As a contributor to large scale employment and our economy, restaurants have to reopen in the new normal.” 

1 Article References

Not all hand sanitisers are equal (https://biodx.co/not-all-hand-sanitisers-are-equal/

How safe is safe? Not every household cleaner/ disinfectant is equal https://biodx.co/how-safe-is-safe/

A guide to popular disinfectants (https://biodx.co/a-guide-to-popular-disinfectants/)

Disinfecting 101 guide (https://biodx.co/disinfecting-101/)

2 The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them (https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them)