New hygiene and signage rules for Austin food establishments

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(Todd Bailey/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Public Health Department has issued new and more stringent rules for food establishments and restaurants to provide more signage and hygiene options amid escalating coronavirus concerns.

The emergency rules were put in place March 13 and will last until July 12, 2020, unless they are withdrawn or extended by the city manager.

Health Department officials handed down the rules just days before Austin and Travis County ordered all restaurant dining areas closed for six weeks on Tuesday. Restaurants will still serve food for take-out, drive-through and delivery.

These are the new rules:

  • A permit holder or person in charge of a food enterprise shall display “Help Prevent Disease” signage provided by Austin Public Health.
  • A permit holder or person in charge of a food enterprise shall make hand sanitizer with a minimum alcohol content of 60% available to the general public and to patrons.
  • A permit holder or person in charge of a food enterprise shall disinfect and sanitize commonly touched surfaces and nonfood-contact surfaces of equipment of the establishment at least once every hour.
  • A food enterprise must adopt and implement a policy that provides for the immediate exclusion of food handlers from duties if they develop a fever greater than or equal to 100.4°F during their shift.

The city could suspend a food establishment’s permit, if it finds the new rules are not being followed and present a public health hazard.

News of the mandate comes in response to heightened concerns about transmission of COVID-19, a new virus that has spread across the world this year and was labeled a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. There have been 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Austin area, as of Tuesday afternoon.

Jen Samp, a spokesperson for the Austin Public Health Department, said the food establishment mandate would be enforced through spot-audits conducted during regular inspections. She did not know if the frequency of inspections would increase, but the Health Department already has strong restaurant hygiene and inspection processes in place, she said.

“We have a lot of inspections happening,” Samp said. “This would be a little on top of what they are already doing.”

Food establishments are inspected twice a year, according to the city’s website, and the scores are posted online. The city conducted 8,853 inspections in 2019, according to city data.  

The Health Department has been monitoring developments in the spread of the virus and coordinating with the Department of State Health Services and Centers for Disease Control to help control the transmission of the disease locally.

On March 11, the Health Department issued new and stricter rules for anyone entering a long-term living facility, which includes nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The rules require nearly everyone, including nurses, doctors, visitors, new patients and volunteers, to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms. The elderly are among the most vulnerable to the virus. You can read the “control order” here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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