Post epidemic quarantine has people eager to return to normalcy and enjoy a meal out of the house. As restaurants and bars begin to open to the public, it’s important to know that eating out does increase your risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Two of the most crucial public health measures that the CDC highly recommends for keeping you safe from the virus when out in public are nearly impossible in the typical dining out experience:
1. It is impossible to eat or drink anything while wearing a face mask.
2. Social distancing can be difficult in tight spaces with back-to-back seating
and servers who moving among tables.
What should you look out for? How can you reduce the risk? Here are helpful answers.
How far apart should tables and bar stools be?
6 feet seems to be the magical number as the recommended guidance from government agencies in the new coined term “social distancing.” This should be your minimum distance away from anyone for safe spacing.
The “six-foot” distancing rule is based on data that droplets distance can spread respiratory viruses. The finding is that droplets tend to settle out of the air within six feet, but of course this isn’t always the case. It is important to know that particles generated by a sneeze or someone running can travel up to 30 feet.
Simply talking has been shown to generate respiratory droplets that can be infectious.
If the restaurant has a fan or current generated in a closed space, particles can also travel farther. China proved this with people in a restaurant downwind of an infected person who became infected even though the distance was more than six feet.
The closer the distance and more time exposed to an infectious person, the greater the risk.
If the servers wear masks, is that enough?
Servers who wear masks, most definitely provide a layer of protection, however customers eating and talking can still spread the virus.
From a public health point of view, one solution to mitigate that risk would be to have tables surrounded by protective barriers, such as plexiglass or screens. Some guidelines that states are asking restaurants to follow are to limit each table to only one server who delivers everything and to seat every other table.
Another option would be for restaurants to screen guests before they enter. The screening could either include temperature checks or questions about symptoms and their close contacts with anyone recently diagnosed with the virus. This could be controversial and might cause backlash, however restaurants in California have tried it. In addition, Washington state has even tried to require restaurant visitors’ record their contact information in case an outbreak occurs. They have since changed the requirement to a recommendation.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend restaurants have employee screening in place before they reopen and require to do so before each shift. Screening employees could possibly decrease the infection risk, it doesn’t help the fact that people can be infectious six days before they even develop symptoms. Thus why why masks, eye protection, social distancing and good hygiene are critical and recommended measures for preventing infection.
Asking For Disposable Utensils And Wiping Everything Down?
There is no need to ask for disposable utensils. Standard dishwashing of plates, glasses and utensils, as well as laundering of napkins and tablecloths, will kill the virus.
Restaurants should be cleaning and disinfecting tables between each use and it is recommended marking them as sanitized.
Menus seem to be one of the major concerns restaurants are dealing with. Plastic menus can be disinfected. However, disposable menus would be recommended. When in doubt, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
Restaurants have also removed reusable items such as salt and pepper shakers, ketchup bottles etc. Patrons must ask for these type of condiments. In many cases the restaurants will either provide one time use disposable condiments or bring bottles, which they must disinfect after customer use.
Can The Virus Be Spread From Food From The Kitchen?
CDC says that the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 from food is very low.
This is a respiratory virus with primary mode of infection is gaining access to the upper or lower respiratory tract through droplets entering your mouth, nose or eyes. The virus must enter the respiratory tract to cause infection, and it cannot do this by way of the stomach or intestinal tract.
An interesting fact is that the virus also not very stable in the environment. Studies have shown:
-it loses half its viral concentration after less than an hour on copper
– three and a half hours on cardboard
-just under seven hours on plastic.
If food were to be contaminated during preparation, cooking temperature would likely kill all of the virus.
The use of masks and maintaining good hand hygiene by food preparers is key to significantly reducing the risk of food contamination.
Is Outdoor Seating or A Drive-Through Option Safer?
Those that are more vulnerable to the virus might consider passing on the dine-in option and stick with on carry out or even consider outside dining for the time being. Open fresh air is always better than the alternative and less exposure to others in a confined space is the safest.
Experts say drive-up windows or carry-out are probably the most safest. Interaction with one individual when everyone is wearing masks is a lower-risk situation.
Overall, outside dining is considered safer than indoor dining with everything else being equal on a non-windy day. Wearing proper eye protection via glasses and intermittent mask use between bites and sips would further decrease the risk of contracting the virus.