lady sanitizing a table while wearing disposable nitrile glovesroad signs that say cold & flu season

Do Your Part to Help Prevent Cold and Flu in the Workplace

Flu season is upon us! That means more sneezing and coughing, running noses and watering eyes, and so many ways to share our microscopic friends ー viruses. As a professional in the restaurant industry, you must be extra keen on contamination reduction and contamination protection.

Here are several simple things you can do to maximize disease reduction:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Wear gloves
  3. Avoid cross-contaminating clean and dirty items
  4. Disinfect high-contact surfaces
  5. Practice sharps safety
  6. Keep your coughs and sneezes to yourself
  7. Stay home when you are sick

You can keep each other safe when you embed these practices into your restaurant culture. Here’s a bit more about why and how to use each one.

1. Wash Your Hands

We have probably heard this since we were small children. Did you wash your hands? Did you use soap? Ironically, though the process of washing your hands requires soap, many people, even adults, don’t use soap as they should. Most people aren’t washing their hands thoroughly either.

The Journal of Food Protection found in a study that only 27% of food handlers properly cleaned their hands when it was recommended. When is it recommended to wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after food preparation
  • After using the restroom
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose

These are only a few examples of when to wash your hands, but I think you get the idea. Think about how many times today you would have washed your hands after following these recommendations.

Here’s how to properly wash your hands: using soap and warm water, thoroughly rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds before rinsing. Count 20 one-hundreds or sing the ABC song to ensure you’re lathering long enough. Completely dry your hands when you’re done. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer.

2. Wear Gloves

Washing your hands is an important step, but once your hands are clean, you can take the next step and wear gloves! Some may argue that hand washing isn’t necessary if you’re wearing gloves. It’s true that proper glove use is a good infection control practice. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to wash your hands. In fact, both techniques are used together to reduce the risk of transferring pathogens from your hands to the food you’re preparing.

Wearing gloves prevents cross-contamination, as disposing of dirty gloves and putting on clean ones is extremely effective at preventing germs from moving to a new area. It can also prevent any germs that may be stuck in the crevices of your hands, like nail beds, from getting into the materials you’re working with. Choosing the right gloves for the job can also help increase their effectiveness.

It is important for those in the restaurant industry to always use gloves when handling ready-to-eat food -- for example, when putting together the pieces of a sandwich or chopping up a salad. Because different foods can sometimes cross contaminate, it’s also important to know when to change your gloves to avoid causing problems.

3. Avoid Cross Contamination

If we could see microorganisms like salmonella or the flu virus, we’d probably move differently in and around the kitchen. Disease reduction practices like disinfecting high-contact areas and keeping clean materials separate from dirty materials are crucial during flu season.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in a 2015 report that, in a year, there could be more than 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses. Many of these cases are linked directly to cross-contamination and poor disinfectant protocol.

Let’s define these terms:

  • Cross-contamination: transferring harmful bacteria and viruses from one surface (e.g., hands, towels, utensils, etc.) to another.
  • Poor disinfectant protocol: not allowing proper contact between the disinfectant and the item being disinfected or not using disinfectant at all.

So, how often are these things causing illness? According to the WHO, it’s extremely often.

4. Disinfect High-Contact Surfaces

No matter how clean your workspace is, high-contact surfaces can get dirty quickly! Even invisible airborne particles can end up slowly turning your freshly-disinfected workspace into a breeding ground for germs, so it’s crucial to disinfect high-contact surfaces often throughout any time that they are being used.

It is also advised to disinfect them before and after use so you can set the next person up for a clean and safe experience.

5. Sharps Safety

Let’s not forget sharps safety! Though it’s not a common way to spread the flu, one can get an infection from a virus entering the body from a cut.

While some sharps are obviously sharps, such as kitchen knives or razor blades, there are other sharps that you may not think of as inherently dangerous. For example, a fork or a sewing needle may be considered a sharp in some work environments.

Regardless of what you do for work, it’s important to safely store, transport, and use sharps. This can include notifying nearby people that you have a sharp, storing them in a case or covering of some sort, and sanitizing them frequently.

6. Keep Coughs To Yourself

With asymptomatic rates so high, respiratory etiquette ought to be performed at all times. The flu virus is most commonly spread by droplets sprayed from coughing, sneezing, or simply talking. Because these droplets can come from both the nose and mouth, respiratory etiquette requires you to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

While some people may have been taught to cover coughing or sneezing with their hands, sometimes it is a better idea to cough or sneeze into your elbow to prevent any accidental spreading of germs in between when you cough or sneeze and when you can wash your hands. And of course, wearing a mask is a crucial step you can take to protect yourself and those around you.

7. When You Feel Sick, Stay Home

Did you know that sometimes we can be asymptomatic with the flu? According to a 2015 study conducted by Andrew Hayward and several other scientists, about 75% of infected people were asymptomatic.

When you know you’re sick, it’s probably best to stay home. It’s very difficult to spread a virus when you’re not around people to spread it to. Working in a restaurant, you’ll likely be in close quarters with customers and/or with staff who are also in close contact with customers, so it’s especially important to stay home when you’re feeling sick.

Stay Safe and Healthy Out There!

While these steps are all great ways to reduce the spread of infection, sometimes there’s nothing you can do to keep from coming down with the flu. Remember to take care of yourself and stay home if you don’t feel well, and encourage others to do the same.