Westborough BOH works with local businesses to ensure food safety

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By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer 

Westborough – There is good news about the safety of curbside pickup and delivery of food in Westborough. According to Dr. Alan Ehrlich, a member of Westborough’s Board of Health, “Restaurants are already operating under a much higher standard than household kitchens. As a member of the Board of Health, we believe that the food being prepared in Westborough restaurants and other food establishments is unlikely to put people at significant risk for coronavirus.” 

He added, “The biggest risk may be as you are approaching the person-to-person handoff. The danger is not in the food. It is best to take the food out of the container and put it in something from your own kitchen. Throw out the packaging, wash your hands, and enjoy the food.”

Ehrlich, a family physician, UMass Medical School Associate Professor, and editor of the journal, DynaMed©, has been a member of the Westborough Board of Health for 18 years. Along with Dr. Syed Hashmi, also a physician, and Dr. Nathan Walsh, a biologist, they set policy and direction for the town’s staff, which includes Steven Baccari, director of public health, Erin Hightower, health inspector, Ray Gauthier, sanitarian, and Paula Covino, administrative assistant.

Ehrlich explained the role of the health department. 

“We do a wide variety of things. If you don’t hear about problems with food, we are doing our jobs.” 

“In terms of inspections, “Food establishments also include supermarkets, and gas stations that serve coffee. We are looking for procedures that are being followed. Food should be labeled properly. Gloves and hairnets must be worn in certain situations, hand washing sinks must be available, for example. 

“Restaurant owners have a PIC, a person in charge, whose responsibility is to see that health code is followed,” he added.  

Hightower further explained, “There is no requirement for establishments to take the temperature of their employees, however all person(s) in charge (PIC) must ensure that all employees are in good health.  They have all been asked to review with all staff that they must report all illnesses. Ill employees MUST NOT report to work and anyone at work with symptoms of illness should be sent home.”

She described the town’s current procedure. 

“We have continued to inspect our restaurants and facilities that have food permits during this time. Unfortunately, many have closed for the duration of this. We have open communication with the establishments that remain open and they are able to continue food service through takeout or delivery,” she noted. “They are all offering curbside, drive up, or no-contact service. Self-service food stations such as salad bars and buffets have been suspended. All products must be packaged as a la carte items (bakery items, etc.).  They have also been advised to follow social distancing protocols while working and when delivering food to customers. They have been advised to review and reduce prepared food to prevent food spoilage.” 

Hightower added, “[Restaurants and facilities] have been reminded to continue adhering to the Food Code by:

  • Reviewing all best by dates daily
  • Informing the health department of any changes to service or operations such as a closure
  • Good hygiene, clean clothing, and hair restraints.
  • Clean, fully stocked hand washing sinks.
  • Proper hand washing for 20 seconds, using a paper towel to turn off faucets to avoid recontamination of clean hands.
  • Restricting the use of cell phones and eating and drinking by staff to specified areas, and immediate hand washing after using cellphones or eating/drinking.
  • Sneezing and coughing into one’s elbow and not touching face or hands without proper hand washing afterwards.
  • Conduct frequent, routine cleaning and disinfecting of contact surfaces (i.e. door handles, doorknobs, tables, customer service areas, etc.)
  • Disinfect all electronic payment pads and other electronic touch screen devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.)

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food… In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.”

The CDC also states, “Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety… It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

For information more from the CDC on food safety relative to the coronavirus, visit www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/newsletter/food-safety-and-Coronavirus.html.