With the rise of COVID-19 as a global concern, previous common-sense cleanliness norms and local health codes no longer suffice at allowing diners to eat confidently.
Safety practices such as social distancing, wearing masks, and employee pre-screening have become the new standard with guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Drew Messing, a 16-year-old junior at The Gregory School in Tucson, is in charge of picking up take-out orders for the family. However, his experience witnessing the safety practices has been inconsistent. Furthermore, his grandmother wasn't convinced of take-out's safety.
"She told me, 'I would really order take-out frequently if restaurants in Tucson are taking measures that they should be taking,'" Messing said. She was primarily concerned that the workers touching her food weren't wearing gloves or masks.
Although Messing is comfortable with take-out, he understood his grandmother's concerns.
"I've noticed a great disparity in restaurants in Tucson," Messing said. "Some just wear a mask, some just gloves, some nothing."
Even if a restaurant has an A+ record with local health inspections, laws and regulations haven't finished updating to match the FDA and CDC guidelines. With that situation in mind, Messing founded the non-profit organization COVID Clean.
"I thought that in a time of struggle for the restaurant industry, restaurants who are taking serious COVID-19 precautions should be promoted," Messing said.
Restaurants that sign up with the free COVID Clean program agree to random inspections to ensure their compliance with guidance provided by the FDA and CDC, including but not limited to:
Restaurants will be able to market their COVID Clean status, while COVID Clean will further promote restaurants through their comprehensive list of restaurants in the program.
Although the program is free and run by volunteers, they accept gift card donations to give to unemployed restaurant workers. Messing's father, Andrew Messing, helps advise Drew.
"I'm very proud of Drew," Andrew said. "He saw a need in the community; he's always been community minded."
"I think that COVID Clean is a win-win-win scenario," Drew said. "Restaurants can increase their revenue, consumers can resume ordering from their favorite restaurants, and out-of-work restaurant employees can receive free meals."
For more information, visit covidcleanaz.com.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...