COVID-19 and hygiene are almost synonymous with each other. Although there exists no concrete evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the consumption of food, erring on the side of caution has never been a bad idea.
So while WHO’s Interim Guidance For Food Businesses Safety states that it is “highly unlikely” for people to contract coronavirus from food or food packaging, it is vitally important for the food and beverage industry to enforce personal hygiene measures in their day-to-day, and reinstate these principles through effective training on a periodic basis for employees.
Here’s a checklist for food safety and hygiene protocols to be followed by a food start-up:
· Hygienic food journey. From raw material handling, food preparation, and food packaging, to food delivery — the COVID-19 situation demands the implementation of additional, focussed measures aimed at preventing the human-to-human spread of the disease.
· Daily screening protocol. Food business owners should have a COVID-19 screening protocol in place to screen all personnel entering the kitchens. Those with temperature more than 99 degrees Fahrenheit and/or flu-like symptoms should not be allowed to enter establishments.
· Personnel training and equipment. Hygiene and sanitation practices at kitchen facilities should be instituted as standard procedure, and employees should receive periodic training on hygiene protocol. The use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that includes masks and gloves can prove to be effective in curbing the spread of the virus through food delivery. These should not be used as a substitute to hand-washing measures, an effective weapon in our fight against the virus. The use of dedicated hygienic aprons should be provided to the staff at the delivery kitchens.
· Regular cleaning. Cleaning of equipment and surfaces in the cloud kitchen is important. Besides hot water and household detergents that work well, if desired, one could sanitise surfaces after cleaning with a 0.1% solution of household bleach. It is better to use tissue or paper towels that are used once and can be discarded immediately into a dustbin.
· Common Area Maintenance. High touch areas and surfaces such as restrooms, doorknobs, grocery kart handles, etc. should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Cleaning and disinfecting supplies should be abundant at all times. Wipes and disinfectant sprays to clean down desks at each day’s end at the smart kitchen should be made available.
· Hygienic ventilation and equipment. Ventilation systems, including air ducts and vents, should be clean at the cloud kitchen hub. All coolers, freezers, and hot and cold holding units should be kept clean, sanitised, and protected from contamination. Calibrated thermometers should be made available to check equipment and product temperatures to ensure food safety.
· Social distancing of supplies and personnel. Food supplies, packaging material, etc. should be properly stored and protected from cross-contamination. The delivery kitchen should have in place measures to minimise face-to-face contact that allows, to the extent possible, at least a 6-foot distance between workers. Restrict the number of employees in shared spaces, including kitchens and break rooms to maintain at least a 6-foot distance between people.
· Response Dynamism. Plexiglass dividers should be installed when distance cannot be maintained at every cloud kitchen in India. Freight drivers, logistics workers, and hauling supplies should avoid contact with the dark kitchen. Smaller kitchen teams should be deployed where possible, in shifts, to ensure that no more workers than absolutely necessary are in the kitchen facility. Large food businesses should set up a local emergency response team to handle suspected coronavirus cases if they emerge.
· Tech Deployment. Contactless food delivery technology, among others, exists and new innovations are coming to the fore, which should be adopted by food delivery companies.Furthermore, when the meal arrives at the customer’s door, food can be left on their doorstep.
In order for the online food delivery business to revive, and eventually thrive, it is no mystery that strict safety measures will need to be adopted and implemented, as is being done quite diligently by the Delhi-based start-up, Smart Kitchen Company. It has become absolutely critical to observe hygiene, safety, and security at all levels, and food brands and cloud kitchens will need to prioritise them above all else.