How to keep your catering team safe and your environment clean

Although many catering operations have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, there are many still in operation supporting both keyworkers and offering take-away services to those in lockdown. 

The challenge for these organisations is to maintain social distancing and high levels of hygiene within their kitchens and restaurant areas to ensure staff remain healthy. And that need is only going to increase as the UK emerges from lockdown and starts to return to the workplace and leisure outlets.

The key to this is shifting the focus from visual standards of cleanliness to hygiene standards. Pre-Coronavirus, kitchens, restaurants and almost all workplaces were focused on visual standards of cleanliness – did the space look clean? Was it free from dirt and debris? Did it provide a good first impression to visitors and employees? Was it a clean environment to prepare and eat food?

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That needs to change towards an enhanced hygiene standard. This involves identifying all areas of a facility where the risk of contamination to building users is high – such as common areas, door handles, lifts and stairway railings, taps, dispensers and preparation areas used by several members of staff –and then cleaning them at a frequency that is appropriate to the area they are in. Focusing on how hygienic spaces are minimises the risk of contamination and ensures everyone remains healthy. It also demonstrates the employer’s Duty of Care to both its employees and customers.

Until a vaccine for Covid-19 is found, organisations need to work hard to protect their people against the virus and a hygiene-focused cleaning regime is an essential part of that. This involves cleaning throughout the day in a kitchen, in addition to regular deep cleans. But this is not just a Covid-19 problem. Colds and flu are more common than Covid-19 and are also transmitted through poor hygiene, most often in the workplace or leisure spaces.

A hygiene-focused approach is suitable for all types of sites and can be used in conjunction with an existing cleaning specification and be adapted over time as building usage – and the threat from Covid-19 – changes. At the same time, organisations need to positively drive the behaviours of building users to remind people to wash their hands after passing through a high-risk area, not just after they’ve been in the bathroom. That can be through indicators in high intensity touch areas, for example, as well as advice on hand-washing techniques in Bathrooms.

They also need to look to minimise contact between staff and customers without reducing customer service and reduce the risk of contamination throughout the building. Ideas to achieve this could include:


  • Consider entry and exit to the building to be limited to the minimum number of points required. This is to make the application of control measures easier to implement and to increase compliance


  • Consider restricting access to the building by visitors. If not possible, confine visitors to strictly defined areas and avoid unnecessary movements around the building


  • Consider hand sanitisation points clearly placed at all entrance and exit points. Staff to politely direct all staff and visitors to use them when entering and leaving the building


  • Consider the replacement of traditional washroom dispensers such as toilet roll holders, hand towels and warm air dryers with non-touch alternatives that reduce contact frequency


  • Minimise user contact points by ensuring that revolving doors are sensor operated


  • Consider retrofitting automatic door opening mechanisms for existing entry and exit points throughout the site


  • Where practical remove curtains and blinds to minimise the areas where germs can be difficult or time consuming to remove. 


  • Remove rugs and mats where safe to do so to make cleaning and disinfection of floors easier for cleaning operatives


  • Consider introducing a swab testing routine that allows for general inspection and auditing of workplace hygiene standards. While these can’t explicitly test for Covid-19 they provide an indicative guide to the success of current cleaning and hygiene practices


  • Display advisory signage throughout the building, especially at entrances and exits and where people congregate. Refresh and update regularly so it doesn’t become ‘wallpaper’


  • Arrange demonstrations of how to hand wash effectively and for the correct duration. Make the NHS handwashing video available on all devices and public area screens


  • Discourage staff from wearing neckties and scarves. These are often not washed frequently and can easily collect and transmit germs when working in close proximity to colleagues


  • Discourage hand shaking and general close personal greetings. Teach people it’s not rude to not shake hands in the current climate


  • Use virucidal sprays throughout the building. Make this available to staff so that they can continuously self-clean their work areas throughout the day


  • Hand sanitiser in pump action/low contact containers should be available in every work area and at main travel routes through a building

While there is understandably a lot of focus on keeping buildings safe now, we need to think about how to keep them safe when facilities reopen fully. People will want assurances that their workplace or leisure outlet is fit for purpose. 

Through the use of a hygiene-focused approach to cleaning, general managers can point to the programme as evidence of the steps they are taking, and the indicators will act as daily visual reminders to everyone of how to stay safe and hygienic.

Cleaning and hygiene must be taken more seriously. It’s no longer enough to have a bottle of anti-bac on the counter. Organisations need to make sure they are creating a fully hygienic environment for people to work – and eat – in for the long-term.

By Mike Boxall, the managing director of Sitemark, an independent benchmarking service for the facilities management industry


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