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Food Safety and COVID-19—Views and Updates from Servsafe


By Sara Wildberger

Larry Lynch

The National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe™ program, widely respected in the foodservice industry as the leader in training and certification, issued food safety and COVID-19 guidance and has continued to update its programs. Argentum is the only senior living industry association providing discounts to members for this required training.

Through the pandemic, as many changes came to senior living dining and even more to the restaurant industry, ServSafe kept ahead of the needs through offering free training resources, monitoring content for any changes needed, and making its paid training and examinations virtual when possible.

In this interview, senior vice president Larry Lynch addresses some of the changes and essentials to know through this time.

Q. Were there many changes to food safety because of COVID-19 considerations?

A. From the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been emphatic that this is not a foodborne illness; COVID is clearly a viral issue and not something that’s transmitted by food. Because of that, the FDA has been hesitant to make adjustments to the food code, which is a big piece of what drives ServSafe training.

However, there are elements of the food code that do address viral transmission and health and safety issues because we still have issues with for instance influenza and norovirus. A side effect of COVID is getting back to the basics that we teach in ServSafe. Probably 80 of what people had to do to protect themselves and their guests we were already doing—or people should have been doing if they were trained properly. It was pretty simple: If an employee is sick, keep them home; wash your hands; keep things clean.

Now, however, we’ve gotten a little more prescriptive in what that means: How to wash your hands, how often to wash, when you change out gloves, when gloves should be used. Guidance about cleaning sanitizing itself is similar, but you need to pay more attention to the kinds of sanitizers you’re using, and the suppliers.

But there’s far more awareness throughout the industry of the risks to employees, and the importance of keeping employees healthy and safe.

Q. What sorts of changes do you see as here to stay?

A. Presuming we begin to move to a more endemic phase, we’ll probably shift to relating some advice on a regular basis that focuses on employee safety and guest, or in your case, resident, safety.

Some of the changes you’ve made in the senior living industry, going from three meals a day in one big room to using outdoor and small tables are absolutely the right thing—avoiding those large congregate settings by spreading people out.

Also, as we move forward, we’re seeing a better comfort level with face coverings. The fact that you have greater accessibility now, particularly to the N95 and KN95 masks, which have greater efficacy, also helps.

Another factor is testing. Before, if employee felt like they may be getting flu, they had to go to a doctor to find out what it was. I’m hearing about new rapid tests due to come out: These won’t just test for COVID-19, but for influenza A and influenza B. So we’ll have more tools by fall.

Air circulation is a big unknown. It needs to be addressed in concert with different industries. We participate with the International Code Commission (ICC), which is taking a look at building code to understand what can be done to improve air circulation from a safety perspective. We’re working on ensuring that as building codes change, it dovetails with what we’re doing in terms of teaching people health and safety.

We update our food safety and COVID resources and the free courses and try to relate and explain CDC guidance. I think our biggest challenge now is trying to keep the industry guided in terms of what has become a rapidly changing series of messages coming from the federal government.