As a precautionary measure, Markus Gould had already ordered a supply of disinfectants and mobile disinfectant dispensers for his guests, when his Heunisch & Erben in Vienna was still closed due to the lockdown and the Austrian government’s hygiene regulations had not yet been announced. “The topic of hygiene is nothing new in gastronomy,” says the current Falstaff Sommelier of the Year and restaurant owner. Even before the days of Corona, he spent a three-figure sum each month on disinfecting hands and surfaces for the company’s twelve employees.
And yet, hygiene has never been more important in the industry than it is now. But in times like these, what does optimal protection mean for guests, employees as well as yourself? “The gastronomy and hotel industry, like almost all other industries, will have to completely reorganize how things are handled,” says Dr. Miranda Suchomel, head of the Institute of Hygiene at the Medical University of Vienna. But she also stresses that, “As far as the kitchen is concerned, the requirements for hygiene standards in Austria are very high and should actually be sufficient.”
However, these standards must now also be consistently put into practice. But this has not always been the case, as restaurateurs admit behind closed doors. For example, as the theory goes, in the kitchen, a cook can only use each spoon once; when a new task starts, a new spoon must be used. However, it is common practice in some (probably many) establishments to use the spoon more often, perhaps after quickly rinsing it. Therefore, it is important to ensure current regulations are now strictly observed.
21 tons of disinfectants
However, if you take a look at Salzburg, you can see that the industry is tackling the issue very seriously. This city is home of the globally active hygiene company Hagleitner. Since the outbreak of the corona virus, the demand for disinfectants has increased twelvefold. The branch in Zell am See produces up to 21 tons of disinfectants daily. Above all mobile disinfectant dispensers, suitable for guest hand sanitization, are currently in high demand. “Unlike hand and surface disinfection, however, there are no valid standards for tableware as far as virucidal properties are concerned,” explains Hagleitner company spokesman Bernhard Peßenteiner. In this case, it’s worth asking the manufacturer.
Walter Mayer is one person who had already tightened up hygiene measures in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. As the kitchen manager in Graz’s LKH-Süd, he also works with the highest hygiene standards in “normal times,” which includes regularly taking swabs from surfaces for testing. Wearing face masks when serving food and constantly changing disposable gloves are commonplace for him and his team of 35 employees. Nevertheless, a lot has changed in this extremely sensitive area of the hospital, which also has an impact on the workflow. Because the staff was constantly wearing face masks, even while preparing hot meals, the number of breaks was increased. In addition, Mayer has also sequenced the breaks for his team so that there are never too many people in the staff rooms gathered together in a small space. Face masks, in particular, will probably continue to define the image of the gastronomy sector for a long time to come, at least when it comes to service.
According to hygiene physician Miranda Suchomel, proper handling is key here. “These masks hold back droplets when speaking, but they are not virus-proof.” You shouldn’t touch the mask it is on your face. If this happens, you should disinfect your hands or wash them with soap. This is important because no matter how well the mask works, pathogens may still collect on its surface. The mask should be changed as soon as it is fully saturated, after six to eight hours at the latest. To remove the mask, you should loosen it by removing the straps at the back, never at the front of the protective fleece. Afterwards dispose of it in a trash can with a lid and wash your hands thoroughly with soap.
Many things which are still somewhat unfamiliar today will probably become a matter of course in the coming weeks. Particularly in the service sector, the industry will have to rethink entire processes to ensure maximum hygiene. For example, it may be advisable to clearly separate tasks in order to work as “cleanly” as possible. Serving, reserving, putting out cutlery, wine service, etc. – all of these steps would mean more staff, which in turn would make it difficult to finance.
“The fact that hygiene is a high priority in our industry was clear even before Corona,” says two-star chef Andreas Senn, who runs the gourmet restaurant named after him in the Salzburger Gusswerk. “We will now also be increasingly instructing our employees about all safety regulations in our own hygiene training courses.” However, he does not see any major changes for his business in terms of hygiene. “We already placed disinfectant dispensers for guests at the entrance before lockdown occurred. Even the spacing rule does not pose a problem for us,” says Senn, whose restaurant is designed to serve a maximum of 35 guests in a total area of 3767 square feet. Senn adds, “Fortunately, the idea of having mandatory Plexiglas set up between the tables did not catch on.”
The hotel industry
Hygienist Miranda Suchomel’s assessment of the situation in the hotel industry is even easier. One reason is because it is easier to keep your distance here than in a restaurant. But how do you deal with hygiene, for example when cleaning the rooms, especially when it comes to the health of the cleaning staff?
“I think it’s almost impossible that you could get infected while making the bed, but one tip would be to ventilate first and thereby “dilute” the air,” says Sukhomel. It’s important to note here that air purifier systems, like those used in many hotel rooms, do not help against the coronavirus as far as we know today.