Self Service Buffets Should be Permanently Banned Following Pandemic That Killed Over 1.1 Million Americans

The COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes to many different ideas regarding health and safety. For example, washing our hands thoroughly. Who would have thought that we needed to tell people something that should have been obvious? For two plus years, as people were sickened and dying from this new virus, we were required to wear masks, almost everywhere we went. That included doctor’s offices, pharmacies, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, mass transportation, and in airports and on airplanes. Of course, masking rules were somewhat arbitrary on planes and in restaurants because we need our mouths to eat and drink. Therefore, when seated in a restaurant, we could remove our masks and once again, enjoy breathing freely, without fogging our glasses. But there’s no virus “time out” so some of these rules were quite arbitrary.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of masking, but I think many people would agree, that at least it’s better than nothing. Anytime a new virus emerges for which we have no known treatment, scientists and governments scramble to come up with ways to protect the citizenry. Hospitals and the governments were scrambling to access and distribute ventilators, intubating people, even though they’re aware that more people than not, don’t survive the procedure. It’s essentially a last resort and performed when doctors have no other option. While most of our health care providers have only the best interests of their patients in mind, never lose sight of the fact that many of the largest hospitals are for profit, and there’s big money in placing people on ventilators. That might sound cynical, but the truth is often cynical. How else could anyone explain the outrageous prices for even something as inexpensive as Tylenol?

What does that have to do with banning self-service buffets? We know how viruses like Covid-19 are transmitted. They spread through close contact with someone who’s in infected. A person speaking to you accidently spits, coughs or sneezes on you, (with or without a mask) there’s a good likelihood you’ll catch it due to how readily the virus spreads from host to host. As importantly, testing was clear that the virus could live on surfaces for many hours, meaning that the virus could spread without close contact with infected individuals. Someone who’s infected could spread it by merely picking up a serving utensil at a self-serve buffet after touching their mouth or nose. The answer of course is not staying locked up in your house and away from people, unless you fall into one of the high-risk categories. But there are other measures that can be taken to not only reduce the spread of viruses but other illnesses as well.

Food service is one of the most important areas, where we can make a difference in slowing the spread of viruses like Covid-19 as well as foodborne illnesses. Having run a number of fast-food restaurants earlier in my career, I know it can be done and there can be no compromise. I have always avoided self-serve buffets because I knew how unsanitary they are. Nothing, whatsoever to do with the pandemic. The food and the utensils sit out, possibly for hours while the trays are refilled periodically. Are food temperatures being monitored and maintained? When food is added, entire trays should be changed. You can’t add new food to food that’s been sitting out. Due to the fact that self-serve buffets have so many issues, concerning food handling and cleanliness, I firmly believe there should be an immediate and total ban of all self-service buffets nationally. I’m actually shocked that they’ve returned.

Anyone who’s ever been in a mall or airport restroom, has seen someone walk out of one of the stalls and right past the bank of sinks. The only thing that comes to my mind at that moment, is that I’m sure he’s heading right to the buffet. I’ve seen people sneeze, wipe their noses and pick up one of the serving utensils or tongs. I’ve also seen people try the food out of the buffet. I suppose, they want to taste it to determine if that’s what they actually want to eat. But it’s disgusting and unsanitary. Perhaps because I know food service or the fact that I’m a bit of a germophobe, I’m particularly sensitive to it. But I’m not wrong!

Let me be very clear. I’m not calling for the banning of buffets in general, but only buffets where people help themselves to the food. If the buffet has servers and the food is fully protected by splash guards, and is closely monitored throughout the day, that’s fine. I recognize that there’s an increase in labor expense, but that’s one of the costs of doing business. Self-serve buffets are unsanitary, and unquestionably help spread illness. If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that, there are measures that can be taken to keep people safer. Banning self-serve buffets would go a long way in making that happen.

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