In light of Covid-19, do your Chefs, cooks and kitchen staff need to use face masks and gloves in your restaurant kitchens?
Even before the pandemic started, predetermined food handling guidelines were already in place for food businesses. All Chefs and food personnel, whether temp Chefs/kitchen staff or not, are required to follow these safety protocols.
But since Covid-19 struck, the need to implement these measures have been heightened.
Yet, among those that are frequently mentioned, the confusion is most apparent when it comes to wearing face masks and using gloves throughout the kitchen service.
Disposable gloves play a significant role in food safety.
Foodborne illnesses are mainly caused by improper food handling and poor personal hygiene of food handlers. And wearing disposable gloves provides a safety barrier between their hands and the food they are working with.
But we are talking about bacteria, norovirus and food pathogens here, not a respiratory virus, which is why it can be confusing for some as to its importance in Covid-19 safety in kitchens.
It is essential to know that as of right now, experts are still not finding evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.
That said, it is not a reason to not use disposable gloves in your food preparation.
It is still imperative that food safety standards are being upheld, now more than ever. You do not want to have your customer contract food poisoning and in addition to that, have them exposed to Covid-19 in the hospital.
Continue to use gloves as part of your safe food handling measures but take note of the following:
- Continue to reinforce frequent handwashing protocol. Wearing disposable gloves can provide a false sense of security. This may encourage staff not to wash hands as frequently.
- Do not consider disposable gloves as a substitute for handwashing.
- Wear gloves with clean hands. The dirt and microbes from the hands can be transmitted to the gloves, rendering the process useless.
- Wash hands between glove changes and when gloves are removed. Bacteria can build up inside the gloves on the surface of the hands. At the same time, hands can also get contaminated after removal of disposable gloves. Therefore, handwashing should also be done after glove removal.
- Change gloves frequently, especially after carrying out non-food related activities,such as emptying bins or opening/closing doors by hand.
- Remind your staff to avoid touching their mouth and eyes when wearing gloves.
- Ensure that there are adequate sanitary facilities available
- Provide adequate supply of gloves. Take note if there are staff with latex allergies and consider alternatives
- Remind staff that even if they are wearing gloves, they should still thoroughly and frequently wash their hands
- Provide hand sanitizers as an additional measure
Last but not least, disposable gloves can also create positive customer perceptions of your restaurant. People would want to dine at an establishment they perceive as clean and safe.
Face mask /coverings
In the foodservice industry setting, face masks or coverings help to catch droplets of nasal or oral fluids of the wearer from getting to the food being served. Yet, before the Covid-19 pandemic, face masks are not a requirement in the restaurant kitchens during food preparation.
Many are asking, have they become a requirement now?
While they are not mandated, they are still good practice.
We are used to seeing staff in dining and service areas wearing them but what’s unclear is whether they should still be used in the food preparation area. It can get confusing.
And the confusion is understandable because, to be honest, wearing a face mask in the kitchen is an operationally challenging practice. It is impractical to wear a mask in a hot environment such as the kitchen. It creates discomfort to the wearer since it makes breathing a bit difficult. This may lead them to touch their face to adjust the mask frequently. Thus, posing more risks for them healthwise, as well as causing cross-contamination to food.
For some restaurants who employ people with disability who rely on lip-reading, this is also a challenge.
And since there is still no proven association between food and Covid-19, what are you risking by not wearing a face mask in the kitchen?
Consider the following:
- There is a risk of an asymptomatic spread of infection between Chef and kitchen staff close to each other where social distancing is a current issue.
- There is a risk that infectious droplets can be transferred to plates and surfaces during food plating. Your Chefs ( and some kitchen staff ) job requires them to be in close proximity to food and wares, physically bent over during prep and cooking, and it can be an opportunity for droplets to travel.
- Consider the pros and cons of wearing a face mask inside your kitchens and after making that decision, share the information with your employees. You can then decide on your next steps but do know that employees may either agree and or show discomfort in following your management decisions. Meet and talk with them to come up with a solid plan to effectively practice safety guidelines for everyone. Should you require this in your kitchen, provide guidance on proper wear and care for face masks and covers
- Continue doing health or temperature screenings. People can be infected with Covid-19 and remain asymptomatic, but that should not stop you from conducting health or temperature screenings before your employee punches in for work. We are fighting an invisible enemy and any measure you can do to fight it counts.
- Reinforce food safety guidelines in food preparation
- Review and retrain staff if necessary on food hygiene knowledge and skills.
Covid-19 has made everyone in the food and hospitality industry take a closer look at how these two protective equipment can protect both customers and employees. Although they cannot offer exclusive protection, they can, to some degree, help when used together with other safety control measures.
What we should always keep in mind is that although the safety protocols with regards to the pandemic are ever-changing, the food safety and hygiene protocols should always be followed.
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,