by Darrell Rodgers Environmental Health Director
By now we are all aware of the Health Order to stop in-house dining at all restaurants and food establishment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants and food service establishments may remain open for drive-through, delivery and pick-up, provided that they follow steps to minimize the risk, including instructions to screen employees for symptoms, ensure proper hygiene, and limit close contact. Many restaurants are now offering these options for eating-out, keeping food workers employed and offering cooked meals for our community.
This health order and the “social distancing” is vitally necessary to reduce the levels of community transmission of the virus. In addition, adherence to the order is critical to the safety of our communities and food establishment workers, who are providing necessary food and provisions during this time.
Our Food Program also has a role to play in working with food service establishments so that they comply with the health order.
What is Public Health doing to ensure food safety and hygiene standards are being practiced?
- We issue guidance on the best health and safety standards for retail food establishments, restaurants, food vendors and grocery stores to meet the requirements to the Health Order. We communicate this guidance to all permitted establishments and business associations.
- We make daily calls and respond to numerous calls from owners/operators of retail food businesses to discuss the order and answer any questions they may have on compliance with the health order.
- We respond to complaints from the general public about retail food establishments. Our health inspectors reach out to these food establishments to discuss the complaint. We also offer individual technical assistance to bring them into compliance. On a case by case basis, our health inspectors visit the establishments to address the complaint.
- Our health inspectors are developing methods to conduct random, proactive field verification of the health order to assess the overall compliance and identify areas of concern.
- Proper cleaning and sanitation are important now more than ever in helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Food Protection Program is providing regular educational reminders and instruction to food establishments about the importance of important hygiene practices.
The good news is that we are finding the vast majority of King County food establishments are adhering to the guidance. They are keeping their customers and community safe by maintaining clean facilities, keeping sick employees home, and practicing social distancing.
Originally posted on March 23, 2020.