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Buffet restaurants face tough road ahead until coronavirus vaccine ready: expert

Last Updated May 18, 2020 at 2:31 pm MDT

Business people choosing from salad bar (iStock)

It's going to be a challenging road for buffet-style restaurants as establishments look to open amid pandemic: expert

Some restaurants say they're ready to make changes as necessary to keep customers safe

Food safety expert says buffet tables pose a risk to spreading the virus because of how often the surfaces are touched

TORONTO – How we eat has changed dramatically, and a food safety expert says buffet restaurants will likely face a tough road until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.

Jeff Farber, the director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph, says buffet tables pose a risk to spreading the virus because of how often the surfaces are touched.

Anish Mehra, whose family owns East India Company restaurants in Winnipeg and Ottawa, establishments known for their buffets, says Indian food is commonly served communally.

“You know, the buffet was a natural, sort of, extension of that,” he says. “And if we need to go back a step, back to the communal table, rather than the communal space, we’re ready for that.”

While Restaurants Canada doesn’t think buffet services are over, it says the industry will have to innovate to make people feel safe in the meantime.

“If we need to take a step back and do a slightly different service, we’re fully on board to do that,” Mehra adds.

Provinces like Alberta say there’s no timeline for when buffet services may be able to start operating because they can’t mitigate the risks around transmitting the novel coronavirus. Back in March, health officials in Alberta said COVID-19 spread at a curling bonspiel for doctors through a buffet when many people touched serving spoons.

This comes as many provinces are getting set to enter a new phase of their reopening plans. Starting Tuesday, B.C. restaurants will be allowed to operate if they implement certain guidelines. Ensuring tables are kept at an appropriate distance, not leaving any salt or pepper shakers at tables, doing away with traditional menus, and enhanced cleaning are just some of the protocols they face under the next phase of reopening.