By Paul Phyall, Managing Director for Northern Europe, Food at NSF International (www.nsf.org)

The last 18 months have been difficult for individuals and businesses, with the hospitality industry being one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Governmental lockdowns and restrictions decimated the industry virtually overnight, and the last 18 months have been characterised by an ongoing level of uncertainty.Yet, despite this, there are signs that the industry is beginning to recover.

In May this year, after restrictions were partially eased, business turnover within the hospitality industry rose to £6.9 billion, which is in stark comparison to £1.2 billion in May 2020. Now that the Government has lifted all social distancing restrictions in England, with a significant easing of restrictions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we’re like- ly to see further buoyancy from restaurants, bars and hotels alike. Meanwhile, customers will expect to see excellent hygiene standards upheld more than ever before and, crucially, the responsibility to keep customers safe lies with hospitality institutions more than ever previously.

As hospitality doors are finally re-opening, attracting customers now hinges on winning over public trust.With social distancing measures easing, the onus of protection now lies on hospitality venues being vigilant, meaning cleanliness and hygiene will be under intense scrutiny. So how exactly can the industry build trust amongst customers?

MAXIMISE VENTILATION

There is strong scientific evidence suggesting the virus is airborne and can infect people through inhalation of respiratory particles, which high- lights the importance of well-ventilated rooms.All hospitality outlets must ensure there is passive air flow through windows, doors and air vents that can be fully or partially opened. Rooms that lack good ventilation allow the virus to build up in the air, increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19, especially if there are lots of infected people in the room. Furthermore, the virus can remain suspended in the air after an infected person has left, meaning that COVID-19 particles can continue floating around an empty room for several hours.

WIPE SURFACES WITH DISINFECTANT

COVID-19 can survive for up to 60 hours on certain surfaces. It’s vital that restaurants, bars and hotels clean all surfaces and shared spaces before and after mixing indoors.Yet cleaning is meaningless unless staff are using disinfectant to kill the viral germs. So it’s advisable that employees use specialised, approved biocidal cleaning products for wiping surfaces.

Beyond general use cleaning products, such as dish soaps and foaming cleansers, acid cleaning products can effectively remove rust corrosion, scale or other deposits not removable by alkaline products. Antimicrobial cleaners must be used to sanitise hard, non-porous surfaces like countertops or work tables.

However, wiping surfaces will only be an effective measure if it is done routinely.All areas and appliances being used most frequently must be cleaned often, and those that come into direct contact with food require extra attention. Hospitality managers and owners should begin by establishing a rigorous schedule of cleaning public areas and organising strict rules with staff; for instance, ensuring they are regularly washing their hands and making hand sanitisers readily available.

GET TESTED

Evidence suggests the virus has an incubation period of at least 48 hours when an individual is asymptomatic but contagious, meaning they might be walking around thinking they are free of the virus while actively passing it on to others. If staff are worried about spreading the virus to customers, getting a COVID-19 test is the best way to stay safe. Hospitality leaders also have a responsibility to urge their staff to test themselves regularly to keep customers as safe as possible.

INDEPENDENT ASSESSMENTS

The hospitality sector needs to observe a high level of hygiene in line with UK food safety standards and keep its staff vigilant to the threat of COVID-19. Doing so will mean businesses can build trust amongst their consumers, who will in turn, increasingly grow in confidence when it comes to eating out socially. Reassurance can also come from the out- side, where independent health and hygiene assessments can provide the most value.There is a big difference between improvised self-assessment and the thorough, comprehensive approach overseen by science-based, independent, third-party organisations.

An independent health and safety assessment will not only reassure consumers, leading to more financial gains, but will also ensure hospitality institutions are doing all they can to create an environment that is safe and hygienic. Every action taken to reassure customers will be another step towards the ongoing recovery of the sector.