NHK’s Food Buffet Experiment and Changes We’ve Made in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

I was intrigued by a recent CNN feature that mentioned an experiment performed by NHK, a Japanese news station. The experiment wanted to see if buffets contributed to the spread of viruses on cruise ships. The experiment caught my eye because we are always on the lookout for ways to contain the spread of viruses during the flu season at our residential addiction treatment centre. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened our concern about the spread of viruses. 

In the NHK experiment, 10 participants were asked to attend a buffet lunch. A fluorescent (glow-in-the-dark) fluid was applied to the hand of one participant, with the idea that the “spread” of the lotion on surfaces and participants would mimic that of a virus. Participants took turns serving themselves at the buffet and seating themselves at tables. After 30 minutes, the lights were turned off, revealing the fluorescent fluid. The results were remarkable. The hands of all 10 participants were “contaminated” with the fluorescent lotion. Three participants had paint on their faces. The paint was also found on many high-contact surfaces, including the buffet tongs, cutlery, dishes, chairs, and table linens. A similar experiment was done on Mythbusters and yielded essentially the same results.

How we Minimize the Spread of Viruses in Our Dining Room 

Employees in our food service department have implemented numerous changes to help minimize virus spread in the dining room, kitchen, and food preparation areas.

The following changes have been made in our dining area:

  1. All plates, cutlery, and condiments have been removed from the common area.
  2. A staff person now hands these items out just before clients are served at the buffet table.
  3. Condiments are now single-serve only.
  4. Staff now load servings onto plates so that clients no longer handle food tongs.
  5. A Plexiglas barrier has been installed and meals are passed underneath the barrier from staff person to client.
  6. Finally, the dining room’s high touch areas are wiped down with disinfectant multiple times during the day.

Keeping COVID-19 Away Starts in the Kitchen

Behind the scenes, staff members have made other provisions to minimize the spread of coronavirus and other viruses. For example, staff members have been told to stay home if they experience any COVID-19 symptoms, such as: 

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat and painful swallowing
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Kitchen staff now have their own designated washroom and are required to change into their work clothes at the start of their shifts, storing their off-work clothes in bags. The process is reversed at the end of their shifts. The kitchen area is now limited to essential staff members related to food preparation and disposal. All other staff members have been asked to please remain outside of the kitchen. Our main food supplier, Gordon Food Service (GFS), no longer enters the kitchen storage area. We are pleased that they, too, have implemented COVID-19 protocol and prevention efforts. See their video about COVID-19 here. Their drivers sanitize products upon delivery which helps minimize the possibility of spreading COVID-19 through packaging surfaces. 

A Silver Lining to the COVID-19 Pandemic

We are doing everything we can to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect that many of the changes in response to COVID-19 will be with us long after the pandemic passes. Although our new policies and procedures mean more work for everyone, particularly our kitchen staff, we understand that protecting staff and clients from illness is paramount. If the changes we have made help minimize the spread of future viruses, it will mean something positive has come out of the current pandemic.

Stay up-to-date with our own initiatives and responses to COVID-19. We update this page whenever a change is made. If you have questions about our drug rehab and alcohol treatment programs, get it touch with us at 1.866.487.9010 or

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