The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the way employees do their jobs in the food service department. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. We must protect the elderly because older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for more severe complications from COVID-19.
Take precautions to limit coronavirus exposure. The best way to protect yourself and the patients/residents you serve is to wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds.  Wash your hands before, during and after preparing food, after using the toilet, after blowing your nose/coughing or sneezing, after touching and removing garbage, etc. Wash your hands after any type of contamination. Hand sanitizers do not replace proper hand washing and should only be used when hand washing is not possible.
Avoid close contact because the virus is thought to spread person to person if people are in close contact with each other (within about 6 feet). It is also spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Reduce the number of people who interact with residents because every interaction is a risk for spreading. Stay home if you are sick and always cover your coughs and sneezes to protect everyone.
Make sure employees are using personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns and masks properly. It is important to safely handle potentially contaminated equipment or surfaces in the patient/resident environment. Isolation precautions are used to help stop the spread of germs from one person to another. These precautions protect residents, families, visitors, and healthcare workers from the spread of germs. Generally, when someone is placed on isolation precautions, there is a sign at the door to remind visitors and healthcare workers which isolation precautions are needed. All healthcare workers and visitors need to follow these guidelines. Healthcare workers should not eat or drink in isolation rooms and should always clean their hands before entering the room and upon exiting the room.
Meal service during COVID-19 has changed significantly. Most long-term care facilities were instructed to provide non-communal dining. When serving food to the residents in their rooms, make sure hand hygiene procedures are followed to prevent cross-contamination.  When serving food make sure there is a separate clean cart for food and a separate cart for collecting dirty plates, silverware, cups and glasses. Always practice good hand hygiene when assisting residents at mealtime.
Clean and sanitize food contact surfaces and make sure to clean first if dirty, rinse, sanitize and air-dry.  Clean and sanitize food contact surfaces after usage and before food handlers start working with a different type of food. Also, any time food handlers are interrupted during a task and contamination may have occurred or after four hours of continuous use. Make sure to clean and sanitize those high touch areas such as door handles, light switches, phones, desks, computer mouse, remotes, countertops, etc., a minimum of twice per shift. There are several cleaning products that kill COVID-19. It is best to contact your chemical supplier to find out which products are safe for food contact surfaces. Always check the product label prior to use and follow proper instructions for use.
Monitor the dish machine temperatures and sanitizer strength frequently. The CDC guidance is to continue to process dishes the same way as always. This is true for a low temperature machine with chemicals or a high temperature machine. There is no need to use disposables to serve the food as they may become in short supply.
By adhering to these procedures for proper isolation, sanitation and personal hygiene, we can keep our residents and staff safe and healthy during this uncertain time.