By VIANCA GAMBOA
Illustration by ARIANA MARALIT
In Contagion (2011), the movie’s ending scene chronicles the spillover event of a pandemic through a disturbing montage of a bat contaminating a pigpen that delivers to a kitchen of a high-end casino in Macau, where we could later see a mix of foreigners playing, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s character—America’s patient zero.
Sounds familiar? In the real setting, the spread of SARS-CoV could be blamed on the lack of food sanitation in the province of Wuhan, China, proving how food has a big impact on viral transmission, or is even at the epicenter of concern for the birth of an outbreak.
This is why restaurants, hotels, and eateries are the last to re-operate public in-house services and gatherings in the gradual process of economic recovery. The sectors are very busy carefully laying out plans for effective food handling to ensure everyone’s safety as soon as they reopen doors to welcome guests and diners.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) and Enderun Colleges clue us in on what the hospitality industry and tourism-accredited establishments are doing on their path to the “New Normal on Food Safety, Sanitation, and Hygiene” through a series of Zoom conferences.
Here are a couple of points discussed about F&B safety. After all, restaurants are the only public place you’re allowed to take your mask off.
Their main goal is to restore your confidence.
When the Inter-Agency Task Force announced the partial resumption of dine-in services with 30-percent capacity under General Community Quarantine, various restaurants accommodated guests in various manners due to a weak circulation of unified protocols, which could do more harm than good.
Restaurants should only be confident enough to serve food when their staff are well-trained and have memorized the new protocols by heart to not confuse incoming customers. Only one way to test this is by putting the staff into action along with an appointed Covid-19 compliance team, according to Cheong Yan See, chef and culinary head of Enderun Colleges.
“We will assess from a point of view of the guests during pre-check in order to develop the proper empathy to handle those who are going to come in,” says Chef See. “Once the simulation is done, then we are able to open our doors to welcome live customers in this case.”
Some hotels have not resumed food operations because they’re waiting for local airlines to jumpstart leisure flights and assure a smooth flow of protocols across all tourism establishments. “This will give us ample time to learn new guidelines and simulate the best practices,” See adds.
They’re looking at things from the medical perspective.
Reopening a food establishment at this critical time may be hazardous, so it’s not enough to just streamline consumer operations. Operators have to dive deep into human and facilities resources by checking workers for vaccinations for every viral disease, and setting protocols on external suppliers down to micro materials, from pipes to personal protective equipment (PPE).
“These standards should withstand not just Covid-19 but all other diseases as well, not just for the ‘new normal,’ but for long-term effects,” says Dr. Wessam Atif, the founder of FoodSHAP (Food Safety and Hygiene Academy of the Philippines). In his talk, he emphasizes the root cause of every disease that could still linger, and staff’s exposure to them. Now, hotels with FoodSHAP certification are advised to focus on sanitation procedures that cover every surface there is, including elevator buttons and salt shakers on tables.
There are latest authority guidance and advisories for hotels and restaurants.
A lot of orientations are being conducted regarding the Food Safety Act and DOT’s “new normal” guidelines (Read: https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/05/18/the-new-normal-guidelines-for-restaurants) for both consumers and core operators in order to familiarize everyone with the food safety regulatory system in the country, according to Elsie Gatpayat, FoodSHAP’s managing director. These modified national laws will include digital alternatives like cashless mode of payment and online pre-orders instead of passing around menu boards, and will be constantly updated until the vaccine is discovered. In this process, it’s important to nitpick which establishments are non-compliant, from utensils and condiments down to packaging and waste management.
They are redesigning restaurants and facilities to align with sanitation standards.
Michael Pizarro, the founder of Michael Pizarro Interior Design, proposes the need for restructured layout plan in accommodation of guests to map out the movement of people from the waiting area all the way to their seats. This would mean reducing chairs, tables, and other furniture in touchpoint areas to minimize contact points, and imposing a time limit for guests.
“The elements of design play a big role for the flow of customers, services, and products,” says Michael. “So, the first step of addressing the transition phase is to understand zoning, which simply means defining and creating smaller areas to isolate services.”
Last, proper ventilation inside hotels and restaurants is a challenge, so hotels may consider al fresco dining. “It has less density rather than an enclosed environment with a fixed, circulating air,” says Michael. “Guests will feel safer outside.”