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As the foodservice industry begins to feel the as-of-yet unknown total effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on business, restaurants are preparing to protect their employees and customers from infection. While the simplest line of defense – soap and water and a supply closet full of disinfectant wipes (especially cleaners that meet the standards of the EPA’s new emerging viral pathogen guidance) — is still important, new smart technologies and apps could bring your sanitation protocols to the next level during this epidemic.
We’ve rounded up four of the best tech-forward tools to prevent the spread of diseases like coronavirus, including innovations for improved handwashing, and an app that provides 24/7 healthcare and safety support from medical professionals.
Handwashing of the future
One of the most important ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to the CDC, is to keep your hands clean. Although consistent and thorough handwashing should be second nature to restaurant employees already, according to the FDA, 73% of handwashes in restaurants fail to meet hygiene quality standards.
Food Service Monitoring Inc.’s Hand Wash Coach takes soapy defense to the next level.
The Hand Wash Coach is a device that attaches above the employee hand-washing sink and tracks the washer’s movements to see if they’re sanitizing correctly. The device displays each step of the correct handwashing method (rinse for five seconds, apply soap, scrub for 15 seconds, and then rinse again for another five seconds), and counts down the number of sudsy seconds until the hand washer can turn off the water. Operators can set it to however long they would like, from 15 to 30 seconds or more.
The Hand Wash Coach, which costs $1,200, is in beta testing right now in at least one restaurant in Rochester, New York, and will roll out to a full market release “very soon.”
“Most foodservice employees do not wash their hands properly,” Lou Thyroff, the Hand Wash Coach’s inventor said. “We’re improving the quality of the wash and the frequency.”
Scanning for harmful germs
If a device critiquing your hand-washing methods is not enough to ward off harmful bacteria and viruses, the HandScanner from PathSpot can take hand cleanliness even further by scanning a hand washer’s hands for any remaining traces of harmful germs.
Using a technology method called “visible light fluorescence spectroscopy,” the HandScanner can almost immediately detect when harmful or deadly bacteria and viruses are present.
“In just two seconds after each handwash, employees know if there is invisible contamination present on their hands and are instructed to rewash and rescan their hands if necessary,” Christine Schindler, CEO and founder of PathSpot Technologies said.
Schindler said that the company has seen an uptick in their devices, which cost approximately $100 per month for the device, software, and data analytics of employees’ hygiene practices that can help managers better prepare their team to prevent illness outbreaks.
“Maybe an employee frequently forgets to scrub under their fingernails or doesn't leave time to wash their hands as they arrives for their shift,” Schindler said. “PathSpot empowers managers to provide actionable, targeted feedback […] which is incredibly important during an outbreak like COVID-19.”
Health questions answered 24/7
Of course, health questions will come up during a foodborne illness outbreak or global epidemic, even if every employee’s hands are scrubbed to perfection. That’s where Zedic comes in. Zedic is a product from Zero Hour Health that provides operators with a series of action plans for health situations (including foodborne illnesses, Hepatitis-A, coronavirus, etc.) and 24/7 live chat support with healthcare professionals.
The app — which starts at $95 per month for a subscription — is Zero Hour Health’s answer to the need from independent restaurants and smaller chains. Previously, the Zero Hour Health health coaching services, which provided both remote training and advice and “boots on the ground” to address health situations, was geared toward larger national chains and cost $5-$25,000 per month depending on the size of the restaurant.
Zedic is for restaurants with under 50 locations and provides virtual health advice mainly from nursing and public health professionals. Coincidentally, the app just launched in the middle of a global health crisis.
“When we started building Zedic, we had not planned on it launching in the middle of a pandemic,” Zero Hour Health COO Roslyn Stone said. “This is unprecedented territory and suggests a need for depth of resources.”
Here are some questions Zedic customers have been asking in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic:
- “I have some employees that want to wear masks. How should I handle that?” (“You can’t wear masks because they are ineffective and will make guests feel uncomfortable”).
- “A guest called the health department and complained that a bartender was going on a cruise. How do I handle that?”
- “How do I ease customer anxiety?” (“Turn off TVs or tune them into music or sports instead of the news.”)
- “Someone was quarantined down the street from our restaurant. How should we react?”
Besides the 24-hour chat hotline, Zedic also sends push notifications for news alerts related to coronavirus or other health and foodservice-industry-related updates. They also offer a library database of the most common foodborne illness and pathogen-related questions and answers.
Proper hygiene training
Of course, one of the most popular sanitation and hygiene training resources is ServSafe from the National Restaurant Association. ServSafe offers an online certification course and assessment starting at $125, an in-person training course from certified foodservice health and hygiene instructors, or a physical book (now in its 7th edition) for $50.50. The training courses and modules thoroughly cover topics like personal hygiene, restaurant cleanliness methods and common sanitation mistakes.
With the increase in coronavirus cases around the country, the National Restaurant Association has seen an uptick in interest from operators who want to participated in the online certification courses. Larry Lynch, senior vice president of certification and operations at the National Restaruant Association clarified that if a restaurant has already taken their online or in-person certification courses, there's no need to do so again because the certification lasts five years and the coronavirus outbreak is too new to have its own module yet.
"Restaurateurs need to have plans in place for the current situation and ServSafe helps them get there," Lynch said.
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @joannafantozzi