Food Access

How to (Re) Open a Restaurant

May 15, 2020  • Food and Society Program

As state and local governments set timing and parameters for the reopening of restaurants, there’s been one very big thing missing: real guidance about how kitchens should be operating in the face of a pandemic.

This isn’t a next-week or next-month sort of question, either. Many kitchens are currently preparing food for takeout and delivery, and of course, there are millions of essential workers in healthcare and other occupations that need to be fed on-site. Most kitchens are operating without a cohesive guide to best practices, and there is quite a bit of variation among the protocols that are in place.

Enter Corby Kummer, executive director of the Institute’s Food & Society Program. As a food journalist (he’s also a senior editor at The Atlantic) Kummer was exploring the ways in which chefs had stepped in to help during the pandemic, and he recognized that the industry needed authoritative and practical guidance, and quickly. With the help of many industry, governmental, academic, and philanthropic partners—and the lifetime expertise of recently-retired CDC epidemiologist Dr. Sam Dooley Jr.—the program has released Safety First: Serving Food and Protecting People During Covid-19.

Food and health are intimately entwined, of course, and the guidelines are first and foremost about the health of the people who prepare food. The recommendations are clear, detailed, and touch on every point of the food preparation process starting with a worker’s health at home. Organization of workspaces and break rooms, processing and packaging, and receiving and delivery each have their own well-reasoned set of protocols. A printable poster of reminders is included in the document and features “Masky,” the anti-contamination mascot of José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen.

Safety First is meant to be a living document and will be updated as more research is conducted and other protocols are proven effective. Guidance for front-of-the-house staff operations is forthcoming.

These guidelines are co-presented by the Food and Society program at the Aspen Institute, World Central Kitchen, Off Their Plate, and the James Beard Foundation, and through the generous support of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

Clare Reichenbach, CEO of the James Beard Foundation, says, “It is our hope that this guide helps chef-owners and restaurateurs reopen in a way that reinforces restaurants as accessible, safe, and prioritizing the health of their employees and customers.”

Safety First: Serving Food and Protecting People During Covid-19 is available to read and download here.

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