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As the Coronavirus Spreads, Restaurants Fight Scare with Super Hygiene Tactics

On December 31, 2019, China reported several cases of pneumonia caused by an unknown virus in the port city of Wuhan. One week later, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that they had identified the causative virus as belonging to the coronavirus family.

How the Coronavirus Began

There are several speculations as to how the virus first affected humans. Whether the Wuhan coronavirus found its way via workers at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, leapt from bats to humans, or, as conspiracy theorists are prone to believe, is associated with weapons research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it’s clear that it has changed the face of China and possibly the world…at least for now.

And restaurants are not immune.

McDonald’s recently shut down approximately 300 restaurants in China and set up an epidemic task force in response to the virus. A Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel that specializes in dry hot pot from Wuhan has seen their orders cut in half. Diners are changing their destinations, leaning away from big city Chinatowns. When a Philadelphian took a random Facebook poll, 40 out of 100 respondents said that, for now, they would avoid Philadelphia’s Chinatown.

Dr. Allen Chan, owner of Jasmine Seafood Restaurant in San Diego, reported to 10News that, after the WHO declared an international public health emergency due to the Wuhan coronavirus, customers dwindled. As a doctor, he decided to take things into his own hands and “fight the fear with hyper hygiene.”

He installed sanitation pumps at the entrance, and reminded customers to avoid double-dipping or shared cups. Remarkably, he even played the CDCs notes on the virus on a giant projector. He’s also ordered masks for servers which, due to high demand, are on back order. While some restaurant operators may see these actions as a little over-the-top, Chan’s customers seem to appreciate his actions and concern.

Steps to Help Keep Guests and Employees Safe  

For those in the restaurant industry, there are simple steps you can take to minimize the chance of a virus, be it the now infamous Wuhan coronavirus or the common influenza, from gaining hold in your establishment and taking down staff and customers alike.

Laurie Garret, a reporter who traveled throughout China and Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic of 2003, shared in Foreign Policy the several important steps she learned to help her keep virus-free despite being in both cities and rooms with those who were infected. Here are a few or her tips as well as other important preventative strategies that restaurants can incorporate.

  • Take a close look at public areas where people commonly put their hands. This includes doorknobs, menus, and the back of chairs. Be sure to wash these areas regularly, as well as handheld devices that your staff commonly uses such as phones, keyboards, stairway banisters, and POS systems.
  • Frequently used items such as towels in the kitchen and pens in the front of the house should be given out with the names of staff members written on them. Viruses thrive in damp towels, so make sure that the staff is aware of this and that they trade in their towels for new dry ones on a regular basis.
  • If you offer family meal style food or group appetizers, nudge your guests to avoid double-dipping by supplying an abundance of utensils and small plates. Consider creating individual serving size portions.
  • Put a sign up for both guests and staff reminding them to avoid touching their face, including rubbing their eyes, and washing their hands frequently, particularly after touching surfaces that are commonly handled. Single-use gloves in the kitchen are always a good idea as well as a reminder to follow established hygiene practices by washing their hands before handling food, after using a tissue, coughing or sneezing, and after eating or drinking.
  • Retrain staff on the basics of good hand washing practices which includes scrubbing in between fingers, under nails, and washing for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Masks, on the other hand, may not be very helpful, and are a visual reminder of the reason that many people have opted to forego dining out for now. If one of your staff comes to work with signs or symptoms of an illness, it’s best to send them home. In this day and age of labor shortages, it can be tempting to ignore the signs that an employee is sick, but your guests and other employees will appreciate your consideration regarding their health and well-being.
  • With the current estimated incubation period (time of exposure to the development of symptoms) of the coronavirus ranging anywhere from 2 to 14 days, people may be contagious before they even know that they are sick. Because of this, those in the hotspots, such as McDonald’s, have gone so far as to measure the body temperatures of all employees when they get to work.

Keep in mind that, while some people are putting in their online orders for masks, meals, and services, and avoiding human contact as much as possible, others are wondering why mass hysteria seems to be setting in.

Just to put things into perspective, last year’s flu season resulted in approximately 34,200 deaths in the U.S alone. While this may do little to ease your fears regarding an unknown virus and its potential mortality rate, numbers like this remind us that we live in a world inundated with viruses, bacteria, mold, fungi, and tiny insects that we cannot see, but can kill us. Feel better?

While it’s important to take necessary precautions, it’s also wise to maintain calm amidst a storm of unending end-of-the-world diatribes. The unknown has always had the ability to take our minds and run with the worst-case scenarios. While we don’t know when the virus will die off or the final toll it will take, we do know that, as with any virus, by taking necessary precautions, we can minimize the risk to both our customers and employees.


10 Tips to Lower Your Restaurant’s Water Bill

This article was originally published on FSR Magazine. 

According to the EPA, water used in restaurants/foodservice account for about 15 percent of the total water used in all commercial and institutional facilities in the U.S.  Here is a breakdown of the usage by area:

  • 52 percent: Kitchen/dishwashing
  • 31 percent: Domestic/Restroom
  • 12 percent: Other
  • 4 percent: Landscaping
  • 4 percent: Other

And, according to Powerhouse Dynamics, “a typical sit-down restaurant uses an average of about 5,800 gallons of water per day. Quick-serve restaurants use about a third the total on average, although the usage per seat tends to be much higher; 5,800 gallons per day translates into over 2 million gallons of water per year.”

Water is often under the radar in terms of costs for restaurants. Food costs and labor costs usually get all the attention. However, there are many simple steps that can be taken to minimize water use, therefore reducing cost, and creating a sustainable culture for the organization. Here are a few suggestions to help lower that water bill.

1. Do not run water to thaw out frozen food

Frozen food should be pulled out at the appropriate time to give it time to thaw in the cooler. Running frozen food underwater leads to the wasting of water, and food quality is being jeopardized using this method. By using a thaw rack, you will correctly thaw food without wasting any water.

2. Older pan/pot-sprayers waste water (5–7 gallons per minute) and use more energy due to the heat necessary to provide hot water

Most equipment suppliers stock a “low-flow” pre-rinse spray valve, which reduce both energy and water consumption. These low-flow valves can cost as little as $10 and reduce water usage by 50 percent. The secret to the low-flow valve’s success is its ability to save in three ways at once. By lowering your water consumption, the sprayer simultaneously slashes your water, wastewater-disposal and energy bills.

3. Use ENERGY STAR equipment in the kitchen and WaterSense toilets, faucets, and urinals in the bathrooms. 

Most models will reduce water and energy use by 10–20 percent. Automatic faucets that turn off/on can be a huge savings versus faucets that allow the water to run constantly. Ideal for handwashing in kitchens and restrooms, sensor devices also provide a cleaner hands-free environment.

4. If you have a dishwasher, wash full racks only

Instruct your dish team “Full” racks of dishes only, each cycle the dish machine runs uses water, energy and chemicals.  During slow times, allow the dishes to neatly stack up. Also consider composting. Scraping food into a waste bucket will save water versus spraying food particles off plates.  A compost program has the added benefit of giving additional “Green” credentials to the business.

5. Wash all fruits & vegetables at the same time to be effcient and limit water use

6. Inspect and repair bathroom sinks/faucets and running toilets

Turn off all water faucets when not in use and fix all leaks. Running a water faucet for five minutes uses nearly as much energy as running a 60-watt light bulb for 14 hours. According to the FSTC design guide, a small leak of 0.2 gallons per minute can waste 100,000 gallons and $1,840 a year in water, sewer and gas costs.

7. Fill buckets and sinks to appropriate levels

Use the 3-sink washing method. Don’t wash dishes with water running. As an added note, use cold water for the sanitizer and not hot water. Hot water minimizes the effectiveness of the sanitizer. The approximate annual savings is $3,200 in energy and $1,300 in water.

8. Use a thermometer to make sure your water heater isn’t working any harder than it must

Hot water should be around 140 degrees at the faucet. The approximate savings by managing the water temperature is $100 per year.

9. Consider only serving water upon request  

California has already made it illegal for restaurants to serve you water—unless you ask. This is also an opportunity to upsell and suggest a bottled water.

10. Show your staff the monthly water bill, and the number of gallons and money spent for the prior month

Discuss the above topics and seek their feedback on how they feel water can be saved. Write down suggestions on a board and keep posted for all to see. Reward those that follow proper water conservation. It is good for the business and for our environment.

While some of these recommendations are related to more efficient equipment, most of them are simple behavioral changes. Educating your team to implement and follow these water saving tips can lead to great savings.