WE already know and feel how the current pandemic has changed the way we work, cough, or even show love. A recent webinar by Enderun Extension showed that the pandemic might affect even the way we eat, from the speakers’ recommendations on how restaurants will have to change in order to face a world during, and after a pandemic.
Titled “Food Safety, Hygiene and Sanitation, Rebooting Your Food Business During COVID-19,” Cheong Yan See, Culinary Head of Enderun Colleges said, “It’s no longer enough for us to operate way we used to before.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Wessam Atif, founder of FoodSHAP (Safety and Hygiene Academy of the Philippines) pointed out that although the COVID-19 virus is not transmitted through food, “This does not mean that it is not related to food in one way or another.”
“Most of the flus, and similar pandemics in the past 100 years or so, were related to food in a very important way, but maybe in an indirect manner.” He noted that the process by which viruses reach humans is through animals we consume for meat: the viruses begin in wild animals, which transmit them to domestic animals, and then on to humans. To emphasize the point, he brought up the 2011 film Contagion, about a pandemic (the film, though fictional, is solidly based on science). The ending shows how the virus was first spread by a bat who had entered a pigpen. A piglet from the pen is then handled by a chef in a Macau casino, who then shakes hands with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character — who then becomes Patient Zero. Dr. Atif points out the crucial step missed out during this whole sequence: the chef did not wash his hands. If he had, the movie would have ended there.
Glenn dela Cruz, a food safety management system practitioner and a microbiologist said, “The good news is, our advice about food safety and COVID-19 pandemic are just the same.” Both speakers emphasized the importance of washing one’s hands. Dr. Atif recalls a World Health Organization (WHO) project he participated in, which included a field assessment of public markets in the Philippines. “One of the major issues I wanted to focus on was the presence of many live animals in the market, as well as hand washing,” he said. “I remember that there was not a single handwashing station in the market that we visited, which is a serious concern.”
“This means that our first concern should focus on hygiene and proper veterinary procedures in farms and primary production.” For this he recommends more careful vetting of food sources and suppliers. He also emphasizes the health of staff members: “If you have any workers or members of staff who are showing sickness, they should not work, and that is also the basic food safety training anywhere you go. This is not only the case for COVID-19 but we have many diseases in the region, like tuberculosis and measles.”
Mr. Dela Cruz gave the following recommendations: clean and complete uniforms must be worn at all times within the workplace, but not outside it — uniforms might be infected with a virus during transit to and from the workplace. Food should not be allowed out at room temperature for more than two hours, and the same goes for cutlery and plates at restaurants (restaurant goers are used to seeing plates and cutlery sitting out on tables, waiting for us). He also recommends frequent sanitation of all utensils with approved chemicals. As for his points about handwashing, he said that many kitchen staff provide the following reasons as to why they neglect to wash their hands: either they weren’t given the training, or there are no facilities for handwashing: this should include soap, running water with a temperature of at least 38 degrees celsius, paper towels, and nail brushes.
Dr. Atif has a case against raw food during a pandemic. “When you have raw ingredients like in sashimi — when you receive it, there has to be good handling, and you have to prepare it, sanitize it, and send it out. It’s just that it’s so susceptible to contamination because it was not heat-treated.”
“The virus dies if treated with heat above 56 degrees Celsius. I highly discourage you to put raw items in the menu. Concentrate on the cooked items.”
This goes as well in the kitchen. He recalls students asking him why they have to wear gloves in handling raw food, when they’re about to be cooked anyway, thus killing any microbes. “I’m not worried about the food as much as I’m worried about your own safety as a food handler,” he said.
“I really want us to be careful, as a lifestyle. Not only because of COVID-19. This pandemic would end, like all other pandemics end. You wake up one day, and there will no longer be any cases. But we need to change our lifestyle and culture, in preparation for the next pandemic.
“If a virus finds a clean and sanitized environment, this is not friendly for the virus.” — Joseph L. Garcia