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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hand and Surface Hygiene

Caroyln Berland, senior scientist and brand innovation manager at Tork, presented a highly informative hand and surface hygiene webinar today.

The webinar was hosted by the National Restaurant Association and sponsored by Tork, a global leader in workplace hygiene products. As Berland pointed out earlier today, the biggest health risk in foodservice used to be food poisoning. Now, operators must contend with the risk of COVID-19 and people within their four walls infecting other guests and team members.

Of course, the transmission risk posed by COVID-19 doesn’t lessen the need for food safety—food poisoning is still the risk it always has been. The new risk facing operators, their teams and their guests from a deadly virus means that hand and surface hygiene vigilance is even more crucial.

Risk Assessment

Berland delved into Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) at the start of the webinar. HACCP is an internationally recognized food safety management management system widely used throughout Europe. While not as common, the system is being used in the United States as well. HACCP was developed for the food industry but has made its way into restaurants.

There are seven principles that guide HACCP. Before we dive into those principles, it’s important to know two things about an HACCP analysis: it’s always specific to one location and the system assumes the level of basic hygiene is excellent as a prerequisite.

The seven HACCP principles are, as shared by Berland:

  • Conduct hazard analysis.
  • Establish critical control points.
  • Establish critical limits.
  • Establish monitoring procedures.
  • Establish corrective action.
  • Verification.
  • Recordkeeping.

As Berland explained, principle one shows operators where things could go wrong. Principles two and three identify the top risks against which an operator must be vigilant. The fourth and fifth principles establish how an operator will monitor hazards and handle mistakes. And principles six and seven relate to documentation, an element of operation that must be taken seriously regardless of a pandemic. Documentation, as most operators know, protects businesses.

A key piece of guidance provided by HACCP for restaurants is the zoning of restaurants. The system recommends dividing restaurant kitchens into zones to avoid cross-contamination, explaining that there’s no limit on the number of zones into which a itchen can be divided. A color should be chosen for each zone, and when a team member switches zones they should wash their hands. Some venues in the United States divide their kitchens and assign colors so that workspaces and tools used to prepare vegetarian and vegan dishes aren’t contaminated by animal products.

If it seems like HACCP is complex, that’s because it is. Remember, it was developed with the food industry in mind and grew to include foodservice. Of course, not every kitchen is a massive commercial space and some operations aren’t realistically capable of being divided into several zones. Berland is aware of this—HACCP was brought up because the key principles are of value to the industry.

Hand Hygiene: The First Pillar

Berland broke food safety down to three pillars: hand hygiene, surface hygiene, and safe food handling. This webinar focused on the first two pillars.

When it comes to hand hygiene, it’s important to have a basic understanding of microbiology. As Berland explained, we can break microorganisms down into three groups: bacteria, yeast and virus. And since we’re currently dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, Berland focused on viruses during this webinar.

A virus, according to Berland, isn’t quite alive. It needs a host, although some can survive on surfaces. Scientific data suggests that COVID-19 doesn’t survive for long and isn’t quite as potent when it comes to transmission on many surfaces found in restaurants and bars.

However, scientists studying this coronavirus are still collecting data, and operators and their teams must remain vigilant about cleaning and sanitization.

There are two types of virus, the smallest of microorganisms: enveloped or “lipophilic,” and non-enveloped or “naked.” Enveloped viruses are enclosed within a lipid membrane, are sensitive to heat, and are easy to kill. Naked viruses don’t have a lipid membrane, are heat-resistant, and are hard to kill.

To answer the question I know just popped into your head, COVID-19 is enveloped and therefore considered easy to kill.

Berland shared a slide that illustrated microbes versus sanitizers. Sanitizers are able to kill—in ascending order of difficulty—enveloped viruses, bacteria, fungi, naked viruses, mycobacteria, and spores. We can at least be grateful that COVID-19 is enveloped and therefore among the easiest microbes for sanitizers to kill.

Washing Hands
So, now we have an understanding of what can be found on our hands and what we can use to kill some viruses. That leads to a crucial element of hand hygiene, one with which every professional who works in a restaurant, bar or nightclub is familiar: hand washing. So ingrained is hand washing in this industry that we likely don’t really think about what it really entails. Berland dove deep to drive home just how important this seemingly mindless task is.

We need to pause a moment to consider what we’re doing when we’re washing our hands. We’re washing something sensitive that protects us from the threats of the outside world. The topmost layer of our skin, the epidermis, is constantly in contact with the world. It gathers dirt, soil, and so many other materials that have the potential to harm our health.

On top of that, it’s sensitive—we need to protect the layer of skin that protects us against damage. Berland recommended the use of liquid or foaming soaps in restaurants that add moisture back to the skin. Products that include glycerin are better for skin, for example.

Addressing medicated soaps, Berland explained that the active ingredient in such products kills bacteria. However, to make using this type of soap effective, the instructions must be followed closely. This includes using the right amount and scrubbing for the right duration.

That was a recurring theme during this webinar: Whatever the cleaning or sanitization product chosen by an operator, the instructions must be read and followed closely. Failing to understand and train team members on the instructions can make the product ineffective.

Addressing a question posed by a webinar participant, Berland stated that water temperature doesn’t appear to make a noticeable difference in killing microbes when washing hands. However, Berland made two salient points about hand washing and water temperature: If water is too hot, it can damage the skin; too cold and it will be uncomfortable, discouraging team members from washing their hands for the recommended 20 seconds.

Another question related to how hard a person should scrub their hands when washing them. Again, the answer addressed friction: too much will damage the skin, meaning a person is less protected against infection.

Berland’s next point is crucial, and it’s one many people probably don’t think about: drying hands after washing them isn’t optional. Wet hands more easily pick up bacteria and viruses from surfaces, meaning wet hands more easily spread those microorganisms. Like washing hands with soap, drying hands should be done gently to protect the skin. It’s a smart choice, according to Berland, to switch to paper towels if a restaurant uses air dryers. This change doesn’t need to be permanent but air dryers have been shown to spread bacteria and viruses.

Hand sanitizer is distinctly different from hand soap: it doesn’t wash our hands. Think about how we use hand sanitizer: we spray or squeeze it on and rub it in. We don’t rinse them off, and hand sanitizer isn’t produced like soap. Soap, when combined with water, creates tiny bubbles that lift dirt that’s carried away when we rinse our hands. This is all to say that if someone uses hand sanitizer on dirty hands, it won’t be effective. It also won’t be effective on wet hands because the active ingredients will be diluted.

Hand sanitizer should be used on visibly clean hands and allowed to dry thoroughly for maximum effectiveness. Berland stated that hand sanitizer is generally gentler on skin than the process of hand washing. A mix of both is most effective in preventing damage to the skin.

In Berland’s opinion, hand sanitizers produced with alcohol are “almost always” quicker acting than their alcohol-free counterparts, and also kill more bacteria.

The webinar didn’t spend too much time on gloves but did touch on them. When using gloves, Berland said that it’s best to complete hand hygiene before putting gloves on and after their removal.

Gloves can be cleaned and sanitized to be used again, with caveats. First, hand sanitizer compatible with the specific gloves must be used if sanitization is to be effective. Second, washing and sanitizing gloves should be done only while they’re being worn. Once they’re removed, Berland said it’s best to throw them away rather than attempting to clean and sanitize them to be used again.

Surface Hygiene: The Second Pillar

As stated previously, Berland is well aware that not every kitchen is huge and conducive to being zoned. For smaller kitchens, she suggested embracing a “clean as you go” policy. Many operators take this exact approach to cleaning their kitchens.

Whether zoned or not, a systematic approach to kitchen cleaning and sanitizing includes making back-of-house team members responsible for cleaning their work area throughout their shift; ensuring work surfaces are always ready to be used safely; the use of checklists; and documenting cleaning and sanitization processes.

Much like hand hygiene, surface hygiene is nuanced. Cleaning a surface removes dirt and soil, just like washing hands. Sanitization of surfaces reduces what’s known as “microbial load” on a working surface that’s visibly clean. As with hand soap and hand sanitizers, team members need to be trained on the instructions for each surface cleaning and sanitization product.

Generally speaking, the process should be as follows:
Remove surface dirt and soil before attempting to sanitize it.
When applying the sanitization and/or disinfecting product to a surface, leave it wet for the full duration of the contact time for that product.

If using a two-in-one cleaning and sanitizing product, the key is still to remove heavy dirt and soil, follow contact time, and adhere to all instructions for use.

When cleaning and sanitizing kitchen tools, these are the best practices:

  • Keep tools within their designated work area to prevent cross-contamination (the zone principle).
  • Soiled cloths can easily cross-contaminate kitchen areas, so change them frequently.
  • Even if stored in disinfectant, cloths and mops can become contaminated. Clean and switch them out frequently, including the disinfectant in which mops and cloths are stored.

HACCP can help operators update their checklists. If an operator doesn’t already have checklists, the system can aid in their creation. According to Berland, cleaning and sanitization checklists should include what, when, who, and how, and should be part of the record-keeping process. Team training should include operator expectations related to checklist and tool use.

Guest Perception

As I’ve stated in other posts, guest perception is more crucial now than ever. If guests aren’t made to feel safe and comfortable, they’re not going to return a venue. Berland pointed out during the webinar that operators tended to conduct cleaning and sanitization behind the scenes prior to COVID-19. The general consensus was that guests didn’t care about seeing team members clean and sanitize during their visits.

Now, however, guests want to see these processes. According to an April 2020 Technomic survey, 56 percent of consumers surveyed indicated they want to see employees cleaning high-touch areas. Research conducted by Tork prior to the COVID-19 outbreak showed that half of restaurant guests wouldn’t order food if restroom cleanliness was poor.

Bearing in mind that guests are likely to use washrooms more often to wash their hands during visits, operators should focus on keeping those areas clean (as they should’ve been doing from the moment they first opened their doors).

Berland recommended wiping high traffic areas like tables with a sanitizing product right before seating guests, then placing napkins, flatware and condiments on the table. This gesture can help make guests feel more comfortable and shows a venue’s commitment to health and safety.

Operations must check their local regulations to ensure that self-serve areas are currently permitted if they offer them, and it’s important to keep in mind that many guests are likely not as vigilant about washing their hands as restaurant and bar team members. As with other areas of a bar or restaurant, clean permitted self-serve areas frequently and properly.

There’s no survey data avaible yet but guests likely feel safer and more comfortable when they see employees using hand sanitizer, according to Berland. However, a Datassential survey conducted in May of this year found that 82 percent of guests feel restaurants should provide hand sanitizers for them to use during their visits.

Because guest comfort and safety has become increasingly important, operators should be transparent about their cleaning and sanitization processes. They should share how they’re complying with local regulations, along with any enhanced (and permitted) steps that are being taken. This includes how takeout and delivery orders are being kept safe. I would add that operators should make what they expect from guests in terms of health and safety clear, leveraging social media channels and their websites to share that information.

Neither the author nor Hospitality Villains received compensation, monetary or otherwise, from the National Restaurant Association, Tork or any other entity in exchange for this post.

Image by zukunftssicherer from Pixabay

David Klemt View All

I’ve been studying and writing about the hospitality industry since 2006. Like so many people, I started my journey in this business by working as a host, server and bartender. I was introduced to nightlife in Chicago, learning the ins and outs of nightclubs and after-hours hot spots.

After moving to Las Vegas nearly 20 years ago, I both co-owned a valet company and helped promote the club it serviced. That led to me taking on the role of editor for a Las Vegas hospitality industry publication.

A few short years later, I continued along my journey of hospitality industry reporting. I went from contributing to a major industry outlet to taking on the role of editor and content curator.

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