Coronavirus: the impact on foodservice

Liz Cooley finds out how the foodservice industry is responding to the deadly coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus epidemic has escalated rapidly over the last few weeks, infecting more than 31,000 people across 25 countries, and the death toll rising to 639.

A virus affecting the respiratory system, 2019-nCoV was first detected in Wuhan, China, and is thought to have made the jump from wild animals to humans at a seafood market in Huanan.

More than 70% of emerging infections in humans are estimated to have come from animals, particularly wild animals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And yet both legal and illegal trading of animals such as bats, rabbits and marmots is common in China, forming a large part of the country’s economy.

While the Chinese government has issued a temporary ban on raising, transporting or selling all wild animal species until the epidemic is over, the outbreak has led campaigners to call for China to apply a permanent ban on the wildlife trade.

Transmitted by person-to-person contact, the foodservice industry across China has taken a significant hit following the outbreak, as people refrain from traveling or dining out. Foreign nationals have largely been evacuated while the government has declared a public health emergency, shutting down movement between cities, and businesses are advising staff to stay at home.

Preventing the spread of the virus

Hygiene is of paramount importance within the foodservice industry at the best of times, and even more so during an outbreak such as coronavirus. The National Restaurant Association has issued recommendations to help restaurant operators protect both customers and employees. It details the symptoms of the virus and gives guidelines on how to prevent it from spreading.

Meanwhile, large American chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have closed thousands of stores in order to protect staff and mitigate the spread among the general public.

However, while a number of cities are on lockdown, restaurants and foodservice outlets do remain open elsewhere. Volunteers from McDonald’s stores that are still in operation have given out thousands of free meals a day to medical staff and epidemic-prevention workers, along with donating fuel for local hospitals and 200,000 medical masks.

Commercial dishwasher manufacturer Meiko China has donated two hood-type dishwashing machines and three cleaning and disinfection machines to the city of Huanggang, which has been badly hit by the virus.

“With our technology and expertise we felt it was the very best thing to try and quash the virus in its place and do our part to try and help in the warewashing environment,” said Paul Anderson, managing director of Meiko UK.

The company’s warewashing technology can safely remove any traces of the virus on dishware and cutlery. “The pathogens do not cause any problems for a commercial Meiko dishwasher with the special agents used, the special washing mechanism and an increased water temperature,” assures hygienist Dr. Friedrich von Rheinbaben.

“Meiko devices are able to process dishes and cutlery in such a way that they can be reused without hesitation, even if they have previously been used by infected or sick people.”

Increased hygiene measures must be used not only for warewashing technology but also for warewashing personnel. The WHO recommends washing hands regularly and thoroughly with soap or alcohol-based products and staff should take precautions such as using gloves when handling dishes, cutlery, trays and other items that have been used and could therefore be contaminated.

The economic impact on foodservice

Similarly to during the SARS outbreak of 2003, the Chinese stock market has taken a significant dip in the wake of coronavirus. The Shanghai Composite index closed nearly 8% lower when the market reopened after the Lunar New Year holiday, its biggest daily drop for more than four years.

While the foodservice industry is pulling together to combat the crisis, the disruption to supply, reduced personnel and lack of custom over this period mean the full ramifications of the outbreak remain to be seen.

Liz Cooley

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