Gearing up for flu season

You’ve probably been reading a lot more about H1N1 lately, as the flu season approaches.

Last week, USA Today’s opinion blog featured a letter from a public health expert preaching good hygiene as the key to prevention.

And a recent Wall Street Journal blog focused on prevention guidelines for small business, including reexamination of policies on leave and telecommuting.

Also last week, the National Restaurant Association put out a great resource on H1N1 prevention. The entire presentation is available here, but here are the highlights, along with some relevant products to aid prevention…

Most importantly for restaurant operators to remember is that the flu virus is NOT spread by eating food items – it can only be spread by inhalation or by touching contaminated surfaces and THEN touching the eyes, nose or mouth.

According to the presentation, the virus is transmitted through droplets generated by sneezing, cough or speaking (within a distance of 3 – 6 feet), and also by direct contact of an infected human or by touching an object that an infected human touched or contaminated with droplets.

The virus can survive on stainless steel and plastic for 24 – 48 hours. Because a restaurant kitchen can be made up of nearly ALL stainless steel surfaces, its important to consider all measures for cleaning and sanitizing these surfaces.

Remember, all it takes is for a person to touch an infected surface, and then touch his eyes, nose or mouth to become infected.


Following are some general guidelines listed in the NRA presentation for surface cleaning and disinfecting.


  • Organic material could protect the virus from sanitizers or disinfectants
  • Removal of the organic material is a key part of control!

Rinse (if necessary)

  • Some disinfectants can be inactivated by cleaners – follow the directions on the
    product label
  • A disinfecting cleaner can minimize this issue


  • Use a registered disinfectant with claims for Influenza A
  • Follow directions for use on the product label

You can find a list of EPA-registered influenza virus products here.

For food contact surfaces like worktables, cutting boards and other equipment, the CDC advises restaurant operators to follow current procedures for food contact surfaces and warewashing. Reinforce the importance of thorough and frequent cleaning and sanitation with your associates.

The flu virus can survive on cloth, paper and tissues for 8 – 12 hours, and on hands for up to five minutes. Obviously, this calls for an increased frequency of disinfection and hand hygiene.


General prevention guidelines include the typical stuff: wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, cover up when you sneeze or cough, AND following PROPER handwashing techniques – which means NOT touching the faucet after you finish washing.

There are a couple of different options for restaurants to adhere to this guideline.

Portable hand sinks are a great option for catering and other outdoor functions – especially with large gatherings of people who are eating and drinking.

The knee-operated hand sink or hand sink with optional wrist handles is a good idea for back-of-house and kitchen operations to help prevent re-contamination after hand washing.

By that same logic, touchless hand dryers and touchless paper towel dispensers can be used in customer/patron restrooms as well as BOH operations.

Next, a poster outlining the proper handwashing technique is a helpful reminder for both you and your staff.

Also, the CDC is offering a free seasonal influenza “Cover Your Cough” poster on their website, great for dining rooms and kitchens alike.

Gloves & Masks

According to the NRA presentation, disposable gloves should be used when cleaning and disinfecting. Wash hands frequently (before and after gloving) with soap and water and/or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Make sure you discard gloves after use.

The CDC only advises a face mask for those who have direct contact with influenza patients in healthcare settings. The WHO and the CDC have not determined any benefits of wearing face masks in non-healthcare settings.

General Guidelines

Last, here are some general prevention guidelines listed in the NRA presentation:

  • Follow local public health recommendations
  • Reinforce personal hygiene (hand and cough) throughout your organization
  • Provide hygiene materials such as tissues and hand sanitizer stations (front and back of house)
  • Stock properly applicable disinfectant products
  • Closely monitor employee health
  • Encourage symptomatic employees to stay home

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