Re-Opening in the Time of COVID: Guidelines for Operating Safely

Apr 27, 2021

Reopening in the time of COVID

After a year of navigating constantly changing mandates, a restaurant industry coalition has compiled its first nationally accepted safe dining guidelines for operators. The goal is to educate both diners and foodservice workers with informative signage inside restaurants, as well as step-by-step protocols to keep everyone safe.

The Aspen Institute’s Food & Society Program has collaborated with World Central Kitchen, the James Beard Foundation, the National Restaurant Association, the Independent Restaurant Coalition, and One Fair Wage to create a comprehensive guide to national safety standards for dining called “Safety First."

The Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Food and Society Program, Corby Kummer, created the guidelines with an array of food and science organizations, including:

•  Center for Disease Control
•  Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
•  Google Food Labs
•  World Central Kitchens
•  The James Beard Foundation
•  Independent Restaurant Coalition
•  One Fair Wage
•  National Restaurant Association

Safety First offers guidelines and signage for the Diner’s Code of Conduct and a Restaurant’s COVID Pledge. It also addresses concerns that are paramount to operating safely. Of utmost importance is proper ventilation. Their recommendations include:

•  Keep windows open whenever possible.
•  Ensure all HVAC systems are fully operational and regularly maintained.
•  Optimize the number of air changes per hour your system is processing.
•  Increase the percentage of fresh air your system supplies to maximum efficiency.
•  Upgrade to the highest MERV grade filters your system can handle.
•  Consider upper-room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation.
•  Use portable, movable Plexiglass or polycarbonate cough-and-sneeze barriers to block horizontal airflow.

If you don’t have an HVAC system—or feel that your system is not sufficient enough to filter the air safely—the coalition recommends supplementing with portable air purifiers with the following suggestions:

•  Look for units that provide at least four to six air changes per hour and discharge air upward.
•  Costly add-ons are not necessary, but make sure it uses high-efficiency HEPA filters.
•  Allow one unit operating at 100 cubic feet per minute per table, or one unit operating at 200 cubic feet per minute between every two tables.

The document also highlights a “Six Steps To Safety” protocol list to further reduce the virus’s spread. They are:

•  Restrict people with symptoms. Anyone who has COVID, has a fever, or any other symptoms of COVID—or has no symptoms but tests positive for COVID—must stay away from the restaurant and isolates themselves from other people until testing determines that they do not have COVID or until they are no longer contagious.

•  Restrict people who have had contact with someone with COVID. They must stay away from the restaurant and quarantine themselves until they are determined not to be infected or, if they are determined to have COVID, are no longer contagious.

•  Wear masks. Everyone—workers and diners—must wear a mask at all times when in the restaurant except when actively eating or drinking.

•  Distance. Everyone must maintain a distance of at least six feet from every other person (outside of their party) as much as possible, even when all are wearing masks.

•  Wash hands. All workers must frequently wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or sanitize them with alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If required to wear gloves, workers should change them frequently, washing hands after removing one pair and before donning a new set (see the “Gloves and COVID” section on page 7 of "Safety First").

•  Clean and sanitize. All workers must ensure that frequently touched objects and surfaces are routinely cleaned and sanitized or disinfected.

You can download the new guidelines here.

Overall, the Safety First guidelines provide a unified approach to re-opening and operating safely as a restaurant. These national guidelines should take the guesswork out of many safety procedures and, hopefully, make everyone feel comfortable eating out again.