OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma Restaurant Association representatives say they are working to ensure sound public health during the coronavirus national emergency, while reassuring community members that it is safe to dine at restaurants..
ORA President Jim Hopper issued a news release Friday stating that they are engaging local, state and federal officials in their effort to help restaurant employers and employees as the COVID-19 threat looms.
“It’s a time of uncertainty for many people in Oklahoma during the coronavirus issue. But one thing is for sure: You should not be afraid to eat at your favorite restaurant during this time”, according to Jim Hopper, President of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association.
Hopper spoke with News 4 Friday afternoon. He said that coronavirus has had a detrimental effect on Oklahoma’s restaurant industry, with far fewer people dining out.
“Events have been cancelled, reservations have been cancelled, group dinners have been cancelled. They’re losing a great deal of revenue,” Hopper said.
Oklahoma’s restaurant industry has approximately 185,000 employees and over 7,000 restaurant and food service locations, according to the news release.
The ORA has approximately 1,200 members, including both chain restaurant owners and private, local establishment owners. Those 1,200 members operate a combined 4,000 locations across the state, and many of them are reaching out to ORA leadership, asking for help.
“A lot of it is around messaging. [They’re asking us], ‘What kind of messaging do we need to get out, and what can you do to help us with getting the message out that we have trained employees, we sanitize our restaurants and it’s safe to eat out?'” Hopper said. “We just want to make sure people understand we know what we’re doing and restaurants are open and absolutely a safe place to eat.”
Hopper said community members need not worry about coronavirus having an adverse effect on the food served at restaurants.
“The virus cannot be transmitted by food. That’s what the scientists are telling the whole nation,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states that coronavirus is spread mainly between people who are within six feet of each other through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The European Food Safety Authority states that there is no evidence that coronavirus can be transferred by food.
“Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect,” said Marta Hugas, the EFSA’s chief scientist.
Harvard Medical School’s website states that it is still not clear if the virus can be spread by an infected person through food they have handled or prepared. However, the website said such transmission “would more likely be the exception than the rule.”
“The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus known to spread by upper respiratory secretions, including airborne droplets after coughing or sneezing. The virus that causes COVID-19 has also been detected in the stool of certain people. So we currently cannot rule out the possibility of the infection being transmitted through food by an infected person who has not thoroughly washed their hands. In the case of hot food, the virus would likely be killed by cooking. This may not be the case with uncooked foods like salads or sandwiches,” the Medical School’s website states.
Hopper said restaurant staff and personnel are working hard to ensure sanitary conditions.
The ORA news release states that restaurants across the state are using good sanitation practices on items that community members touch while dining, such as utensils and hard surfaces.
“In partnership with the Oklahoma State Health Department and local Health Departments, restaurants have been utilizing good sanitation and training of their employees for many years. Restaurants remain one of the safest places you can dine out at during this time”, said Hopper.
The ORA is sharing with its members both information about the extra sanitation precautions that can be taken to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, as well as lists that specify which disinfectants and agents are effective against the virus, the news release states.
“Diners should take comfort in the fact that restaurants have been meeting food safety and sanitation standards for decades so they already have protocols in place,” Hopper said.