The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has engulfed all our lives. It has affected the way we do our jobs and it certainly has changed the way we go about our normal everyday routine. Social distancing is the main phrase we think of daily. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The virus is thought to spread person to person between people who are in close contact with each other (within about 6 feet). It is also through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The best way to protect ourselves and the residents we serve is to wash our hands often. 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. Basically, wash your hands after any type of contamination. You can never wash your hands too often especially during this pandemic. To properly wash your hands, make sure to wet your hands with clean running water, apply soap and lather the back of your hands, between your fingers, scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. In order to know how long 20 seconds is, sing Happy Birthday from the beginning to end twice. Many people do not wash their hands for the proper amount of time so pay close attention to this important step. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water and dry your hands using a clean disposable towel. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Hand sanitizers do not replace proper hand washing.
Most long-term care facilities are now doing non-communal dining so when serving food to the residents in their rooms, make sure hand hygiene procedures are followed to prevent cross-contamination. Sanitize any writing materials. 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.
For food contact surfaces, make sure to clean first if dirty, rinse, sanitize and air-dry. Clean food contact surfaces after usage, before food handlers start working with a different type of food, any time food handlers are interrupted during a task and contamination may have occurred or after four hours of continuous use.
Monitor 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 be in short supply soon.
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. You will also want to check the product label prior to use and follow proper instructions for use.
By adhering to these procedures for proper sanitation and personal hygiene, we can keep our residents and staff safe and healthy during this uncertain time.