Former Florida health inspector gives advice on eating out safely as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Posted at 9:03 AM, Jun 30, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 cases rapidly increases, you might feel more apprehensive about eating out now.

So WFTS took your questions straight to a former health inspector, who believes certain food safety protocols should be followed when you're dining out.

"I think everyone should be wearing a mask if they're in public," said Danielle Egger, who started her own restaurant consultation company called Florida Food Safety Systems, after being a health inspector for many years.

She says since restaurant inspections are public, you should look up past inspections here to see how the restaurant performed before the pandemic hit.

"If the restaurant has had concerns about sanitation in the past before COVID started, it might be a good idea to consider going elsewhere. And if sanitation issues, handwashing, and cleanliness were an issue before this ever started, chances are they're struggling to get up to compliance now," she explained.

When you walk into a restaurant, Egger says employees should be constantly cleaning, especially highly-touched areas.

"I have been advising them to set timers so that every 30 minutes, they're wiping down high touched areas. That's going to be any of the door handles, any of the points of sale systems that they're using to complete transactions," she said.

And that includes stylists, pens, and even credit card machines because the virus can live on surfaces.

"There are some studies that say that COVID-19 is possibly able to survive on a surface like plastic for about three days so it's definitely possible," Egger said.

But can the virus live on food?

"It appears as though coronavirus and COVID is actually heat sensitive, which means that most of the time, those temperatures we're cooking those food items too is able to cook off any kind of the virus," she explained.

And you may have heard that eating outside is safer than inside. So why is that?

"I believe there were three reported cases of people consuming food in restaurants in an enclosed area and they actually did find the virus in the air conditioning system," she said.

And masks are a must right now.

"Anybody that's facing our customers should be wearing masks, that includes general managers. That includes anybody who's out on the floor, interacting with customers or employees," she said.

And the biggest mistake people make when wearing a mask? They don't cover their nose.

"You're still running the risk of inhaling that potentially contaminated air. So we have to keep everything covered," she explained.

Egger also recommends restaurants display on their door what they're doing to keep you safe and what they expect of their customers.

That may include things like 'masks required', 'please social distance' or 'think about take-out if you're not feeling well.'''

Egger says disposable menus are the safest but if a restaurant hands you a reusable menu, they should be sanitizing that menu between each customer.

WFTS' Wendy Ryan first reported this story.