COVID-19: Tips for using and maintaining café and restaurant PPE

This article was submitted by Alliance Online Ireland.
With cafés and restaurants in Ireland allowed to re-open, many have had to quickly adapt to new rules for using PPE. In this article, John Girvan, from catering experts Alliance Online Ireland, shares some essential tips for using and maintaining your PPE.
Last month saw the long awaited re-opening of hospitality businesses, like hotels and restaurants, albeit with some new guidelines in place from Fáilte Ireland. These guides set out what your business should be doing to safely resume work during the current pandemic.
However, one of the areas that you may not be overly familiar with is the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is being recommended as a key preventive measure for COVID-19. Whether you’ve already re-opened or you’re planning to open your doors soon, these tips for using and taking care of your hospitality PPE may be helpful.
Choose suitable PPE that meets requirements
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees, which means you need to provide the right PPE for the job. It’s recommended that you take a look at each part of your business and assess whether any PPE is required.
For instance, Fáilte Ireland advises that any reception area has a kit at hand that includes disinfectant for wiping tables, face masks, disposable gloves, an apron, and a disposable biohazard bag. Or you may need to set up additional handwashing facilities if there are not enough available in your premises.
It’s also important that you choose PPE that is fit for purpose and provides the appropriate level of protection. This may require a little more research on your part when purchasing equipment, but it will ensure that you’re investing in quality products that will keep your staff and customers safe.
Ensure that PPE is widely available for staff and customers
The Fáilte Ireland guidelines recommend that your PPE, including hand sanitiser and a supply of masks, is distributed in both front and back of house locations. In the front, you should have essential equipment, like hand sanitiser, available at all entry and exit points to the premises, as well as providing it within public dining and drinking areas. In the back, you should have PPE at employee entrances, department offices, storage areas, cellars, and food preparation areas.
Following the most recent measures introduced by the Government, you are required to provide hand sanitiser on every table for customer use. Your customer facing staff will need to wear face masks, and customers also need to wear face masks until seated, then again at departure. You may wish to keep a store of disposable face masks for customers who don’t arrive with their own.
Follow the correct procedure if using gloves
It should be stressed that regular hand washing is the best way to provide a barrier to infection, and your employees should follow the Government’s advice on this, even when wearing gloves. If your staff wear gloves for food handling, they also need to follow these procedures:
• Gloves can be used following the usual health and safety rules, but gloves must be changed frequently, and hands must be washed before putting them on, between glove changes, and when gloves are removed.
• Gloves need to be changed after carrying out any non-food related activities, such as taking money, emptying a bin, or opening a door.
• Staff should be made aware that it’s possible for bacteria to build up underneath gloves, so hand hygiene measures should be followed even if they’ve been wearing them.
Take care that PPE is properly maintained
If your staff are using any reusable PPE or you’ve provided them protective clothing as part of their uniform, it’s important that each item is inspected for damage and cleaned after every use. This will make sure that equipment remains fit for purpose and any harmful bacteria are killed and removed.
Before the pandemic, it may have been the case that staff took uniforms and PPE home to clean. But it may now be best practice for you to collect, clean, and store these items yourself to ensure that everything is sanitised properly. Taking this step will mean the chances of employees taking any infected equipment or clothing home with them are minimised, and there’ll be no risk of items being exposed to the virus when they commute to work. You may need to provide a dedicated space for staff to change and deposit any uniform or PPE if you don’t already have this facility.
When it comes to washing reusable PPE and staff uniform, I would recommend using the warmest water setting that the manufacturer’s guidelines recommend along with an antibacterial detergent. Take care to avoid shaking the items before they’re clean so the virus isn’t dispersed, and try to keep your contact at a minimum, washing your hands as soon as you’re done. It’s also a good idea to disinfect any objects the laundry has had contact with, such as a storage basket.
I also recommend that you instruct your staff to visually inspect every item of PPE before they use it to ensure its fit for purpose. This applies to both reusable and disposable equipment. And, if they spot a fault, the item in question should be disposed of or set aside for repair (only if it’s reusable). Any reusable PPE that can’t be safely repaired should be thrown away.
COVID-19 is presenting new challenges to the hospitality industry and it’s important you do your bit to protect staff and customers by providing and maintaining PPE. By following the advice here, you will be on the right track, but remember to stay up to date on the latest Government guidance to ensure you’re doing everything correctly.