Coronavirus impact: Bay Area restaurants face major challenges to ensure customer, food safety amid pandemic

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- It's estimated one in 10 workers in California is employed by a restaurant. But the future of both is facing some serious challenges if and when they can re-open.

As diners, we may see servers with gloves and masks. Dining rooms and kitchens aren't designed for social distancing. Since eating with a mask on is impossible, food safety will require some big changes.

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Takeout Tuesday is helping to keep some Bay Area restaurants from perishing. But their futures are filled with uncertainties and unresolved issues.

"I do think it's disconcerting when you see a server with a mask on their face and gloves on their hands," said Gwyneth Borden, a steering committee member with the Bay Area Hospitality Coalition.

Ensuring food and customer safety will be challenging when cooking is a hands-on process. Take sushi, for example.

"It's not really a practice that works with gloves," she noted. "And how do you do sushi and make people comfortable with the fact that your hands are clean and that you're doing the right thing?"

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Restaurants will face social distancing standards. Spacing out tables could reduce capacity in half, but that would hurt revenue. They couldn't raise prices 50% to offset a 50% reduction in diners. Then, there's the tight quarters in kitchens.

"If there are social distancing standards in the kitchen, how do you figure out spacing people apart when the way your kitchen is designed and all the different stations there just isn't fundamentally space for that," she said.

A study of restaurants in China also implicates ventilation systems for spreading COVID-19 infections, raising doubts if six foot separation is sufficient. Eating is not possible with face masks.

Wholesale food processors with similar issues are looking into a possible solution.

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"Can we use things like hydrogen peroxide in ventilation systems, which has been shown to be effective against lots of pathogens?" said Dr. David Acheson, a food safety consultant and former associate commissioner for food at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, he said it's not known yet if it's effective against COVID-19.

Restaurant groups are working with the Governor's task force on these issues. Re-training, recalibration and maybe simpler menu items could be coming.

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