Foodservice business owners have long understood the importance of safe food handling practices in their line of work. With temperature control, sanitation, and personal hygiene, they can limit the risk of foodborne illnesses.
That’s why every café, bar, and restaurant owner in Texas makes sure their staff members have a food handlers card. With one simple course, they can learn everything they need to know about keeping their patrons safe.
In saying that, the COVID-19 pandemic has made appropriate food handling even more important – as if it wasn’t already crucial enough. Cleaning practices, food handling practices, and even front-of-house management have all been scaled up.
Though given the unchartered territory we find ourselves in, these new practices aren’t second-nature to everyone. If you’re a food handler, who wants to know what steps to take to keep yourself and others safe, read on.
Food Handler Hygiene
Foodservice workers who completed a food handlers course would have learned about hygiene requirements in the hospitality industry. This involved taking care of their health, personal hygiene, clothing, and following hygienic habits like handwashing.
These measures are essential when a contagious virus isn’t ravaging the world, but even more so when one is. The CDC has outlined many hygiene practices and respiratory etiquette to keep dining patrons safe.
Some of these measures include:
- Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – especially before, during, and after food preparation and after wearing gloves.
- Wearing gloves when handling used food service items, disposing of trash, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
- Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if water and soap aren’t available.
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or using the inside of the elbow.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
One in six Americans will come down with a foodborne illness every year. Through appropriate temperature control measures, many millions of cases of food poisoning could be avoided.
Pandemic or not, food handlers should ensure they follow all appropriate temperature control measures to keep their patrons safe. In any food handlers course, you would have learned the importance of keeping high-risk food groups out of the temperature danger zone, which is between 41-135°F.
Within this temperature zone, pathogens in food double every 20 minutes. Just four hours in a danger zone is enough to make someone eating that food incredibly sick.
Move foods quickly through the temperature zone to prevent foodborne illnesses. Hot food should sit at above 135°F and cold foods below 41°F.
Most dining establishments have a seating arrangement that suits kitchen staff, servers, and general food handlers. However, the CDC recommends that new measures be taken to reduce the spread of Coronavirus.
Certain seating and dining arrangements measure on a scale between ‘lowest risk’ and ‘highest’ risk. The lowest risk arrangement involves having your dining establishment offering drive-through, delivery, curb-side pick-up, and take-out only.
Slightly riskier is on-site dining in the outdoors, with tables spaced six feet apart. Indoor dining areas and seating arrangements closer than six feet apart increase the risk of virus transmission.
Cleaning and Disinfection
One of the most critical components of a food handlers card course is general cleaning and hygiene. This section outlines the cleaning of everything that surrounds the food, including facilities and utensils.
Before COVID-19 arrived, cleaning and disinfection were incredibly important. However, it’s even more critical now than ever before. Food handlers and any food service industry workers must get into the habit of cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces often.
These can include:
- Cash registers
- Work stations
- Bathroom stalls
- Sink handles
- Door handles
Between each use, the following should be cleaned and disinfected:
- Food trays
- Payment terminals
- Tables, bars, and countertops
- Condiment holders
- Receipt trays
Follow the directions on the disinfectant product labeling and ensure any products you use meet EPA disinfection criteria. It’s also essential to follow all other rules, regulations, and safety laws put in place.
When you undertake a food handlers course to receive your food handlers permit, you learn a lot of useful information on keeping foodborne illnesses to a minimum. You do this through learning about food contamination, food hygiene, appropriate food storage, and general cleaning.
However, what that food handlers course hasn’t contained information on before are your service behaviors. How you serve your customers and interact with other staff members must change to limit the spread of COVID-19.
It might seem unnatural to advise your customers and team on these new best practices, but they could make a world of difference.
Get into the habit of discouraging the sharing of any items that are hard to clean, disinfect, and sanitize. Even between staff members, limit the sharing of equipment, supplies, food, and tools. This might mean that your workplace has to invest in additional supplies to ensure there are plenty to go around.
While we are trying to reduce our impact on the environment, single-use items are essential in the food industry right now. Remove reusable items from tables, like menus and condiments.
Instead, use single-use food containers and encourage people to view digital menus on their mobile phones. Alternatively, offer paper menus your customers can throw away at the end of their meal.
Touchless payment options are also encouraged. If receipts and cash must exchange hands, ask your customers to place them on a tray, rather than exchanging them from hand to hand. If pens are required, encourage customers to bring their own.
For many years now, we’ve been encouraging customers to bring reusable coffee cups to reduce the number of takeaway coffee cups going into landfills. However, while COVID-19 spreads throughout the world, encourage your customers to refrain from bringing in their own food or beverage utensils.
The CDC recommends the use of masks to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. This is undoubtedly a new food handler safety measure you won’t see in your average food handlers course. Both customers and employees are encouraged to wear masks as much as possible, except when eating or drinking.
While not required by law everywhere, they are strongly encouraged among employees and food handlers, particularly in workplaces where social distancing measures are challenging to abide by.
Many dining establishments throughout the United States, and even the world, do not allow people to enter their workplace without one. Babies, children under two, and those who are incapacitated or have trouble breathing are not required to wear one.
Once you are wearing a mask, refrain from touching it. If you do, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
Becoming COVID-19 Aware
Many training facilities now offer COVID-19 awareness courses that complement food handler training cards. However, as long as you are taking note of all CDC recommendations and have a valid food handlers card in Texas from an accredited training program like TABC Pronto, you can be in the best position to serve your customers safely.
Just remember the following:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
- Wear a mask and other appropriate PPE when taking orders.
- Limit your contact with food as much as you can.
- Keep high-touch items like menus, condiments, and silverware off tables.
- Promote social distancing throughout your workplace.
If you are either new to the service industry or your food handler permit is nearing its expiration date, enroll in our online course pronto!