The CDC still recommends 6 feet of separation where possible, frequent handwashing, and wearing face masks.

At a recent meeting with industry food and operation safety experts, Patrick Guzzle, vice president of Food Science and Industry, discussed key safety issues, like the growing prevalence of vaccinations, and what that means for restaurant employees and guests.

Should foodservice employees get vaccinated?
Our newest COVID-19 guidance encourages all staff members at foodservice establishments to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when they have the opportunity. It will help them, their co-workers, customers and businesses.

Are operators adopting new vaccination policies?
Based on anecdotal information, we’re hearing that operators are encouraging their teams to get vaccinated. Some are incentivizing their employees by giving them paid time off to get shots.

What is the purpose of engaging third parties to collect vaccine information?
Third-party companies may be a safer way to assess vaccine readiness without running afoul of HIPAA and other privacy laws. Employers will want to know who can work and who can return to work safely; not having to be the repository of that data may offer a safety net for restaurants. The third-party firms have apps that allow employees to upload their own vaccine records so no one else has access to their medical information.

Once employees get vaccinated, do safety protocols change?
We urge everyone to continue following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, if an employee is vaccinated, but has been exposed to a COVID-19-positive individual, they still need to ensure they’re symptom-free before returning to work. In addition, the CDC still recommends 6 feet of separation where possible, frequent handwashing, and wearing face masks. Everyone should follow those rules, even if they’re vaccinated.

How can employers get employees to keep up good safety practices post pandemic?
A long-standing CDC study from a few years ago suggests that because of the food safety protocols practiced and the presence of a certified food safety manager, there are fewer incidents of foodborne illnesses, such as norovirus or any of the common bacteriological pathogens that cause foodborne illness. It’s believed the decline is related to more frequent handwashing among other protocols. We hope people will look at the information and see the correlation.

What needs to be improved?
In addition to continuing to train employees through our ServSafe food safety training programs and the free COVID-19 safety videos we developed—and making our ServSafe Dining Commitment—I’d most like to see frequent handwashing continue along with diligent cleaning and sanitizing practices.

It’s important that the message from operators to their guests remains consistent, that restaurants are invested in their safety, health and comfort, and taking every precaution to mitigate the risk of transmission.

What's the next big initiative for food safety during COVID-19?
The CDC’s COVID-19 guidance created a greater emphasis on cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. Disinfecting has serious implications related to food safety so I would see this addressed in a deeper way by the FDA in the food code following COVID-19. The topic will also be part of the discussion at the Conference for Food Protection in August, and the theme of our National Food Safety Month initiative in September. We plan to share information on the proper protocols for both sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces, especially important as more guests return to dine in restaurants.