The hospitality industry has been struck hard and the need to focus on hygiene has become even more important for this industry to thrive. In a recent webinar, Cleaning and Hygiene Practices in Food Service, we spoke to a panel of experts about the best practices that must be undertaken by the food service industry.
The panel hosted experts like Mr. Alan Zering, Managing Director, Intertek Cristal, Middle East and Africa, Raseena Abdulla, Food Safety Manager, Abela & Co., Dr. Martin Easter, Chief Scientific Officer and General Manager, Hygenia International, Sutharson Sathiah, Senior Manager, HSE & Risk, Global Village, Nicky Ramchandani, Founder, Zen Group of Restaurants, Erwa M. Mohamed, Head of Food Control Section - Acting RAK Municipality, Andrew Turner, Institutional Division Manager, Reza Hygiene and Bobby Krishna, Senior Food Safety Specialist, Food Safety Department, Dubai Municipality.
Here is an excerpt from the webinar.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food service industry
In the past 18 months, the industry has seen a lot of changes and impact while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another stage of it was recovering as the pandemic continues to exert its toll on the global economy. Obviously, there is an urgent demand emerging for all industry experts to give the support in order to respond to the crisis. This has been a continuous process. There has been a critical opportunity for the hospitality and other industries to provide the industry with not only guidelines but also the support in terms of consultancy and to respond dynamically to the crisis. In the hospitality industry, hotels continue to accommodate guests or quarantine away repatriation work in essential services in order to safeguard the guests and their staff. “What we did in the Intertek Cristal Organization was that we developed a program called POSI - prevention of spread of infection. It is a comprehensive risk management that deals with all the protocols that could actually prevent the spread of all viruses, including COVID-19 with all its mutations. This program has been in place since last year,” says Alan Zering, Managing Director, Intertek Cristal, Middle East and Africa. Other than that, there have been a lot of organizations actively involved in developing the right protocols, guidelines and advice and also to carry out the complete risk assessment of all areas of operation in the industry, especially hospitality. The special emphasis here is on hospitality because it, alongwith travel, has been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a loss and recess in the business of this particular industry. “It’s been a struggle, it’s been a journey, and I, having been involved with the food, catering and hotel industries, adapted new protocols,new audit checklists, new risk assessment procedures, customized for every facility. It's not just about responding to the pandemic or mitigating its impact, it is about relying on proactive measures to control or develop new protocols.Once the pandemic is over, products and services proactively managing risks will be in high demand to ensure that critical gaps in business continuity and pandemic management planning are addressed,” he continued.
Another important element to note is the need to reassure business, consumers and the general public. Dr. Martin Easter, Chief Scientific Officer and General Manager, Hygenia International mentioned a rapid detection technology that his company provides. This technology gives a numerical demonstration that the cleaning has not only been conducted but it has been conducted well. This gives a metric to be able to demonstrate that proper processes are in place and they are delivering a high standard of cleanliness. “We’ve seen a large update of technology across the world because of the pandemic and because everybody wants to be seen doing the right thing and to prove that their interventions do mitigate the risk.This gives confidence not only to ongoing cleanliness within a facility but also for a recovery program. One of the biggest examples we have seen is a nation approach albeit a small landmass in Singapore. The country has a program called Singapore Clean which aims to provide that reassurance across many sectors - from hotels through to food service outlets and public places including transport . We’ve also seen a lot of airlines picking up the technology for mass transport, not only within the aircraft but also in the food courts and luggage trolleys. Some of them have presented their data on a mobile screen so it's visible to the public. Being able to show that some cleanliness has taken place gives reassurance, not only to the person providing the service, but the end user as well,” says Dr.Martin.
A Municipality’s Perspective
In terms of regulatory authority and challenges related to cleaning and disinfection, RAK municipality realized from the beginning that this virus has to be tackled by a specific method to get rid of it. The challenge as a regulator was to make sure that cleaning, sanitisation and disinfection material were from approved sources and they were effective enough to deal with this virus. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there were proper systems in place to determine this. The initial step was to ensure the solutions were right. The next big step was to get the best practices in place - practices on how to deal with COVID-19 positive cases, how to deal with suspected cases. “I can say that now we are in a mature stage where we have our internal procedure in place, where we have some internationally acclaimed best practices,” says Erwa M. Mohamed, Head of Food Control Section - Acting RAK Municipality.
Erwa reiterates that the challenge is risk assessment. When we talk about hospitality and 5 star or 4 star hotels, it is applicable but when it comes to small or medium sized premises, it is difficult to assess risks. In small premises, there might not even be somebody in charge of food safety or to operate a risk assessment system. “As a regulatory authority, we face the challenge of less manpower. There are thousands of premises and when I go back to analyze my data, most of the repeated cases are coming from these types of premises, where there are no proper procedures for cleaning and where there is no trained staff to deploy. However, we are in that stage where we have a system in place. Yes, challenges are still there but we need to highlight these challenges and come up with a customized system for them,” he concludes.
Bobby Krishna, Senior Food Safety Specialist, Food Safety Department, Dubai Municipality highlights how the food service industry has been remarkably cooperative despite the challenges they had with their businesses. “When we deal with something like the novel coronavirus, we are not just looking at the dimension of business. We are also looking at a third dimension called consumers. Consumers behave very different and across the globe we have seen that irrespective of whether they are going to a 5 star hotel or a small business, people behave pretty much the same way. There were issues of overcrowding, lack of cooperation, etc. While one set of people wanted to adhere to the protocols, the others did not. These were the conflicts we were trying to resolve throughout the pandemic and businesses cannot do much because they can’t control what people are doing. I think that’s the least addressed of issues. We have to think about how we will move forward. Even now, that continues to be a challenge,” he says. He highlights another important aspect of cleaning of contact surfaces. Every business does this but the frequency depends on several factors and where consumers have rapid movement, we’re not just looking at food contact surfaces, we are also looking at the environment, the interaction of the consumer with the environment. We need to look at specific behavior patterns that are specific to businesses. For example, how you behave in a sushi bar is different from how you behave in a shisha place or a pub. Those elements call for a customized risk assessment plan that delivers desirable outcomes. For a municipality, it is very important to keep the business educated in not just spraying the chemicals once a day, it’s a constant watch and vigil around what’s going on and appropriately choosing your disinfection and cleaning mechanisms.
Facilities with a larger influx of people
Global Village opened doors to its 25th edition in the middle of a raging pandemic. Given the number of FnB operators within the Global Village, this seems to be quite a challenge. A large number of people are expected to visit the Global Village every year. As soon as one season closes, the preparations for the next are in full swing. “Unfortunately, the pandemic hit us in the months of February and March last year. We then went into a complete lockdown and couldn’t complete Season 24. The lockdown followed 3 months of darkness while we waited for further updates from the authorities. But we knew that at some point of time, we will have to resume preparations so we started planning for Season 25. We had grand plans for Season 25 because it was our Silver Jubilee opening. We started off by identifying the risks and having a proper control mechanism. We adopted a very simple approach of PDCA - Plan, Do, Check, Act.
To give a brief background, Global Village has amusement rides, innumerable FnBs, entertainment and a huge amount of shopping. After carefully considering all these things, we created a risk mitigation plan. We considered the complete guest journey, starting from parking or even before, when the customer might be thinking of visiting Global Village but fearing for their safety and looking for some information on our mobile app or website. We started from that stage,moved to the parking, ticketing counters, kiosks, restaurants, pavilions, amusement rides, skilled games, etc and what could be the possible touchpoints at every place. Every premise had become a touchpoint for us. We identified approximately 70 touch points across the Global Village. For each touchpoint, we identified risk levels. Some of these were low risk, some medium and some high. We identified the challenges we might face at each place and started placing control messages. At this point, we started getting guidelines from the authorities, especially from Dubai Tourism, Dubai Municipality and DHA. So we started getting some solutions for our problems,” says Sutharson Sathiah, Senior Manager, HSE & Risk, Global Village.
Appropriate resource allocation was done to ensure safety. Structures for thermal screening had to be set up, additional prayer rooms had to be built and a lot of work was to be done but with the support of authorities, the Season 25 of the Global village emerged as a success.
There are innumerable examples where facilities set the highest benchmarks of ensuring safety, hygiene and sanitation. Detailed planning, risk mitigation and assessment have proved to be the key in most of the cases. To read more about these best practices, scan the QR Code and access our full webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-RVfCJFB4U