Hawaii Foodservice Industry & COVID-19 - Thoughts & Possible Sanitation Solutions
In light of what is going on with the COVID-19 virus, it's no surprise that our foodservice and hospitality industry was hit first & the hardest. Normal downtown & Waikiki hotspots which normally boasts lines of people had no wait. Cheesecake factory & Marukame Udon had no line when we walked by which is not the norm. Waikiki at noon looked like a lazy Sunday morning. Our Hawaii economy depends on tourism and the affects of it suddenly halting was felt across our industry.
Unfortunately it's not as if someone can give an 'all clear' and things would go back to normal. UHERO said our Hawaii economy will not see improvement until the summer of 2021 and sadly a lot of small businesses will not be able to hold out that long. I haven't seen a downward trend like this since 9-11 and it took Hawaii over a year to even begin recovering. People are eating in more (as if the lines at Costco & grocery stores weren't an indicator for that) and opting to hold onto their extra cash to weather this financial storm. Meal delivery services could possibly increase because of social distancing but companies who charge a commission to the restaurants for their services, may lose this income due to owners opting to do their own delivery to save money. Also servers with no customers may be asked to do these deliveries instead of being laid off entirely.
It will take the public a long time to feel comfortable again. When it comes to sanitation, our carefree way of life is forever changed. Foodservice sanitary maintenance isn't the most interesting topic to discuss and in our experience is also the last thing restaurant owners like to think about but right now is more important than ever. Besides providing anti-bacterial dispensers to your store fronts or making sure gloves or possibly masks are worn when ever food is being prepared, there are a few other things you can do internally to pivot in regards to your sanitation practices so you can meet the demands of this new foodservice landscape.
HAND WASHING STATIONS
On our last trip to Japan in late 2019 we noticed that it was quite common to see hand washing stations outside of restrooms and in the center of big foodcourts to not only decrease unnecessary traffic inside of restrooms but also make it easier for people to wash their hands in general. Hand sanitizers are ok but the best protection is just washing your hands with plain soap & water. I noticed an exterior hand washing station outside of the restroom at the newly opened Waikiki Food Hall which was very refreshing to see. Also flash back to Sam Choy's Breakfast lunch and Crab who had a foot activated hand washing station in the middle of the restaurant! Do you think you can incorporate this into your restaurant design?
COLOR-CODED FOODSERVICE TOOLS
When it comes to foodservice operations, we just need to be more diligent in our cleaning & food handling practices. It is so important to not only train staff in the seriousness of this task but to make sure the right tools are being used for the right job. This prevents cross-contamination of any sort from food borne illness to other types of bacteria.
You don't want to use your meat marinating food box to store your freshly chopped lettuce. Nor do you want to use that mop from the restroom to clean your dining room floor where everyone eats. The color coding system is an easy visual indicator for staff to understand what tool is used in what location. Basic HACCP colors for food handling (see picture) is pretty common knowledge but not everyone uses different color food bins. Nor do they have specific microfiber or cloth rags for specific areas. For non-food handling sanitation you can determine the color-coding that works for your business so long as it is clearly communicated & practiced by all staff.
SANITATION BUCKET SOLUTION
This is a required tool in any foodservice establishment and if you don't have anything like this I suggest you go get yours today. The problem with this tool is not the tool itself but in that the sanitation solution is not changed often enough.
Chemical can be expensive but not only that, changing sanitation solution is just something that is overlooked in the busy day to day running of a restaurant.
Make sure the sanitation solution is well above 50ppm and contact of solution to surface is at least 7 seconds. If you don't have high volume foot traffic where it makes it easy to remember to change the solution frequently such as every 4 hours, please use chlorine test strips to ensure you are within safe range.
CLEANING YOUR TOOLS AS YOU GO!
When a chef is cooking on the line or chopping freshly roasted meat on the front customer counter for take-out, the last thing they're thinking about is how clean the tool they are using is. Do you remember standing at the counter ordering your subway sandwich and watching them wipe the mayo off the knife on that terry cloth rag? Tell me you didn't ever question how clean that rag was...at the time, it was just the way things were and we accepted it was clean. It only touched clean food so why clean it right away right? Now we know that it depends how long you've been using the tool (or the rag). Food debris on tools can still go bad even while in use and at the same time you don't want TONS of utensils cluttering your front counter because you're having to wash it after every use. This concept can be daunting but when a customer sees that the tool is being cleaned right in front of their eyes, it gives them comfort in that their prepared food is clean & safe. Perception is everything right now so make sure you're making your customers feel comfortable so they keep coming back for more.
REPLACE CRACKED, CHIPPED OR DISCOLORED TABLETOP
Tabletop is expensive which is why operators will continue to used chipped or discolored tabletop for longer than they should. Any kind of surface crack or missing glaze will hold bacteria. Replace chipped plates or mugs immediately and see if the manufacturer has a chip-warranty like RAK Porcelain with its limited lifetime chip warranty. See what the handling guidelines are to ensure full warranty coverage.
How to prevent chipped tabletop is to make sure you stack plates vertically - do not slide plates across each other. Wash plates in its own cycle rather than mixing it with other metal cutlery or hard objects. Don't hit the plate against objects or trashcans - use the right tools to clean it before going into the dishwasher. Also store your items properly in dish racks.
Discolored polycarbonate cups also give the impression that the items aren't clean when it very well could be. Clean your polycarbonate cups by soaking it in a mild bleach water solution overnight to get the caffeine stains out. Make sure the insides are scrubbed regularly to prevent bio-film build up with the proper brushes. Keep customers coming back by making sure your tabletop is looking as clean & inviting as possible.
I've noticed that some restaurants are taking away their grab-n-go self serve cutlery and opting to hand it to their customers individually. Some are opting to provide prepackaged cutlery to prevent spreading of germs just from handling. Although prepackaged may be more expensive than loose cutlery, it will give your customers piece of mind which is what will keep them coming back.
Our foodservice community rose to the occasion of the ever increasing demand of better, more interesting & higher quality eateries. Hawaii is now an epicurean destination with so many amazing & talented world renowned chefs & mixologists. We want to see it continue to be so and with a little internal diligence we can make our customers feel comfortable enough to patronize again. We can do it Hawaii - we are here for you!
- PAC RIM REP