A panel of experts weigh in on what tools are available to ensure a facility is safe from dangerous pathogens
As restaurants reopen, owners must assure guests that premises are safe from pathogens, given ongoing concerns about safety in public spaces.
What tools are available to ensure a facility is safe from dangerous pathogens? Can restaurants protect the health and safety of in-person dining customers and staff while improving overall operations leveraging the latest trends and integrated technologies?
A panel of experts weighed in on these questions during a FastCasual webinar, “Emerging Trends in Restaurant Health,” sponsored by Powerhouse Dynamics. Elliot Maras, editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times, served as moderator.
“There’s a new arena of germ warfare, and that’s the indoor space,” panelist Scott Heim, division president, Middleby Ventless Cooking Solutions, said in kicking off the one-hour free event. “It’s where we eat, meet and greet.”
He reviewed the reasons restaurants must disinfect the indoor air by citing some recent industry statistics.
- Dine-in business for restaurants fell to 71% in 2020 and 47% in 2021 due to lockdowns and COVID concerns.
- Three quarters of adults currently feel comfortable going out to eat since the worst of COVID, but in he wake of COVID restaurants must ensure repeat guests a safe dine in experience.
How viruses are transmitted
In formulating a successful health strategy, it is necessary to consider how viruses get transmitted.
People get contaminated when they breathe droplets of small airborne particles containing the virus or when particles land on the eyes, nose or mouth, or by touching those areas with hands that have the virus on them.
“It’s not just the surfaces; it’s the small little aerosolized droplets; that’s what makes the COVID crisis and the COVID transmission so insidious,” Heim said. “They build up in the air and they don’t necessarily settle on the surface.”
Masks are good at catching large droplets, he noted, but not the small aerosolized ones.
Bluezone meets the challenge
Middleby Bluezone first addressed the challenge of getting fresh fruits and vegetables to US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan 10 years ago. The Bluezone model 2400 was placed in the shipping containers and destroyed the molds and bacteria.
“It is tougher to kill molds and bacteria than it is a virus,” Heim said.
UV treatment can destroy 99.9% of mold, bacteria and ethylene gas and increase food shelf life by seven to 10 days.
When COVID hit, the Bluezone team developed a “kill box” with the UV-C germicidal light to destroy the virus.
Middleby worked with the Culinary Institute of America, which explored filtration equipment and ionization equipment to make the CIA campus locations safer.
UV-C germicidal light
A key weapon in the Bluezone arsenal was the Model 450 device which has four UV-C germicidal bulbs that can treat up to 9,000 cubic feet.
“As you pull the potentially contaminated air into the HVAC system, you’re able to contain the virus, molds and bacteria, in that actual unit,” Heim said. “It pulls potentially contaminant air into the box itself at the rate of 150 cubic feet per minute; that’s what’s allowing us to cleanse the 9,000 cubic feet of space.”
CIA installed 116 Bluezone units at its four locations, said panelist David Behnke, CIA assistant director of facilities. These included ceiling units, pedestal style units and wall mounted units.
Witnessing these units on site brought a new level of safety comfort to the people on site, Behnke said.
“What we found out is that more and more people want to know that there’s a unit that’s in the space that’s cleansing the air, that’s adding layers of protection,” Heim said.
Insertion products such as ionizers, gases and chemicals offer ionization and clean the air, Heim said, but they are not to be used during regular business hours.
UV-C germicidal light, on the other hand, can destroy the RNA of the virus.
“It was a very fast installation, and it was pretty much like an overnight where we went from not having that protection to having that implemented,” Behnke said. “It just added an extra layer of comfort.”
Maintaining key infrastructure
Powerhouse Dynamics, which makes the open kitchen and IoT management platform, ensured that the infrastructure around the sanitation treatment was working properly, said panelist Jay Fiske, president, Powerhouse Dynamics.
Fiske said it is important to make sure the facility’s HVAC systems are working properly.
“You want to minimize changes to infrastructure,” Fiske said.
In addition to the biological aspect of sanitation, there is a psychological one, he said.
“You build awareness so people understand they’re going into a space where you’ve got mitigation efforts in place that include purifying the air,” Fiske said.
It is necessary to clean surfaces and take temperatures and make sure existing infrastructure (HVAC systems) is working as designed.
Fiske recommended ensuring fans are running to bring fresh air into the space, keeping comfortable temperatures for staff and guests, and turning systems down during unoccupied times.
He also recommended digitizing what were previously paper based processes. Digitizing processes makes it possible to benchmark activities across all locations.
“You can proactively identify when your equipment is not working properly,” Fiske said.
Assuring employees in the workplace
CIA used the sanitized spaces as a showcase when employees returned to work full time, Behnke said.
“Having equipment like this gives you reassurance that you are actively sanitizing the space,” he said.
As a safety mechanism, “If the unit were opened up, the unit would turn itself off,” Heim said, adding that US Army labs in Natick, Massachusetts tested the food preservation units that use UV light.
“These are perfectly safe units to operate 24 hours a day seven days a week,” Heim said. “The solutions exist today.”
Click here to watch the webinar.