Should a buffet which is a communal food concept be available during a pandemic and is it safe? We can’t say whether it is or not we’re not scientists we’re caterers. If evidence of norovirus outbreaks is anything to go by then we feel that buffets must have safety measures in place that are adhered to and if they are they are no riskier than a social gathering with safety measures in place that are adhered to. Do not gather until precautions are lifted.
We want to go back to social gatherings it’s a cultural necessity, a mental health booster and an exciting and fun prospect that we all need. After all who doesn't love a good wedding? But there is an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 that exists in any public place where people are present (this includes having a party at your house where people that don’t live with you are gathering with you). Choosing to gather during a pandemic will always be at your own risk and all your guests who choose to attend assume that risk for themselves. If you choose to have a social gathering you must take the health and safety of others seriously and take precautions and this includes any serving of food.
BUT WHATS THE concern with the serving of food or buffets
The spreading of a virus due to any activity that includes other people and providing food is the activity we are addressing. An infected person can spread a virus either by direct contact or touching and using communal serving utensils which are then used by everyone else as well and then those people sitting down with their food and eating it with unwashed hands. As I understand it, If you take some of that risk away and provide a solution you could be potentially slowing the spread of the virus.
SIDE NOTE: Touching communal food with your hands and then putting it back on the tray for someone else to grab is unacceptable behaviour. If you touch it, eat it or bin it, this is why we want to stop this from happening by individually boxing your buffet.
CAN WE have a party food buffet safely?
Recently we attended a webinar for the USA catering industry, it was to provide buffet restaurants and hotels in Vegas with solutions and the equipment for getting back to providing the famous 'all you can eat' buffets as safely as possible. Their ideas were great but I don't think we are there yet for the party food buffet. I loved their ideas and they can totally be put in place but going forward there is still the social distancing problem and people don't think and certainly don't social distance at a buffet table. These tools would work fabulously to provide safer gatherings post-pandemic.
These tools are
· Hand sanitiser for the guests before the buffet line to reduce the number of germs getting on the serving utensils.
· A disposable serving utensil for every communal food platter available or for smaller groups a serving utensil for each person.
· Individually wrapped disposable cutlery
· Disposable cups & plates
· Signage reminders not to touch the food with hands
· Hand sanitiser after the buffet line to clean hands before eating (just in case someone touched the serving utensils without sanitising)
· Or use the BEST Alternative.
THE BEST Alternative
Everyone gets their own buffet box and eats from that, no cross-contamination, no touching other people’s food, social distancing a sinch. Just a smiling face with a box of goodies. Caterers are used to providing individual boxes as we do it all the time for those with food allergies if it’s ok for those that need it, why can’t it be ok for everyone?
This is the option that most buffets in hotels etc are using and so are we.
Other safety measures include
Social distancing markers at the buffet table
Strictly keeping young children away from the buffet table
Asking someone to leave the line if they do not adhere to safety measures or you see them touching food with their hands.
Venues could also provide portable sneeze screens.
WE NEED your help though
It’s all well and good to provide the tools to someone with the intention of keeping them safer, but for them to actually be safer, they have to use them. If these ideas are ill-received by you, you are not ready to host a gathering during a pandemic, so please don't.
IF YOU must gather
please be smart about it, use your common sense and expect others to as well. As the host, it is up to you to do all you can so no one comes with an uninvited guest and no one goes home with an extra one. It would be acceptable to put on your invite ‘that attending this party during a pandemic is at your own risk as you could be potentially exposed to the virus, please don’t come if you’re unwell’.
We need to do whatever we can to slow or hopefully stop the spread and also get back to life as normal as possible and get used to safety measures.
Buffet Heroes will provide the following service for all buffets from now on.
1. Delivery to the venue before guest arrival.
2. Masks and gloves will be worn at the venue and follow venue protocols
3. Individually wrapped disposable cutlery for each attendee.
4. Hand sanitiser provided
5. Your cold finger fork buffet, hot buffet and kids' buffets will all be individually boxed.
During the lockdown, Buffet Heroes pivoted its offerings to include afternoon tea boxes and Grazing platters as well as individually boxed buffets for funerals and our vintage grazing platter for 4 – 6. These offerings will continue to be available to those who want a little treat or as a food gift for the elderly and those shielding. Employers can also buy boxes for home workers or those attending zoom meetings.
Blog post was written by Lorna Robins owner of Buffet Heroes in Stockport.