To help consumers feel greater confidence in ordering from local restaurants during the pandemic, Northern Arizona University coordinated with Coconino County Health and Human Services to create a new COVID Aware Enhanced Food Handler’s Certification.
The testing, training and verification, which is available online at no additional cost to anyone with a food handlers certificate from the county, represents the most current health guidance directly related to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in a food-service establishment, both among employees and customers. The curriculum, which the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) developed in conjunction with county health professionals, pulls from recommendations and best practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS).
“Restaurants, hotels and others in the service industry are among the hardest hit by COVID-19,” EPI executive director Joseph Guzman said. “Re-establishing those businesses means maintaining the confidence of the public through tangible, visible actions.”
Businesses and employees who complete the training, which is available on the CCHHS website, will be listed online as a Certified COVID Aware Business and be given a certificate to put in the business’ window. That label communicates to customers how seriously that establishment takes individual and community health and safety.
“The message to the public is, ‘I care, I’ve taken the time and effort to learn the latest and safest practices against COVID-19 and I will continue to do so as things evolve,” Guzman said. “In short, what it says to a customer is that this establishment is as safe as possible due to the efforts of the management and staff.”
Mark Molinaro, a senior chef lecturer and interim associate executive director in HRM, brought his experience as a restaurateur and educator to help design the curriculum. This included organizing content from the various health agencies and develop the topical areas for the certification exam in collaboration with CCHHS in both infectious disease and restaurant operations.
Molinaro echoed Guzman’s assessment about the importance of consumer confidence in strengthening the local economy even during the pandemic and the belief that this certification would that metric.
“Consumer confidence comes easily to those who are transparent and keep the care of their business community at the heart of the decision-making process,” he said. “Having the restaurant team go through this training and develop a plan opens up communication and action that becomes visible to the public. Knowing a restaurant has gone the extra mile to learn best practice in COVID-19 awareness is the first step in having confidence. The next one is seeing it in action.”
NAU has partnered with the county to measure business sentiment throughout the pandemic and is authorized to provide food safety handling certification required for restaurant employees, which made this certification an obvious next step. Guzman said that while this certification is not yet required by law, he anticipates that state law will adapt to the changing circumstances brought about by the pandemic and when new regulations and requirements are introduced at the state level, Coconino County will already be substantially in compliance because of the enhanced certificate.
Learn more about the COVID Aware Enhanced Food Handler’s Certification and find the COVID-19 Aware Food Service Business List at the CCHHS website.
Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
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