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Food Service Industry Updates

Restaurant Association Calls Out CDC for its Latest Report

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The restaurant industry — struggling enough on its own because of shutdowns related to the pandemic — didn’t get any help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently when the CDC published a new study saying that Americans who tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 14 days were twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative test results. Researchers surveyed symptomatic patients at 11 U.S. health care facilities for the study.

“Eating and drinking on-site at locations that offer such options might be important risk factors associated with [coronavirus] infection,” the CDC reported. “Efforts to reduce possible exposures where mask use and social distancing are difficult to maintain, such as when eating and drinking, should be considered to protect customers, employees and communities.”

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) took exception with the report.

“The methodology used in the recent CDC article focused on the transmission of COVID-19 and restaurant visits contains numerous flaws, and the conclusions of the study are insufficient to guide consumer behavior,” the NRA said in a statement. “Across myriad industries including gyms, restaurants and retail, the conclusions reached by the researchers are not supported. Furthermore, the results calling out restaurants specifically are not supported by the data nor the methodology.”

The NRA said the CDC used statistical methodology to draw conclusions based on where people visited, such as face covering habits in which the CDC used a five-point measurement scale that the researchers selectively shortened, which possibly influenced the outcome.

“The study tells us that people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 had also dined out,” the NRA stated. “There is no clear evidence that the virus was actually contracted at a restaurant versus any other community locations.”

Also, the NRA said the CDC study failed to distinguish between bars and coffee shops, two establishments with decidedly different atmospheres and customer behavior. Additionally, the NRA said the CDC did not ask whether participants had dined indoors or outdoors.

“The study’s limited number of participants came from 10 states with greatly varying restrictions on restaurants during the potential period of potential exposure,” the NRA added.

The NRA said it’s irresponsible to pin the spread of COVID-19 on a single industry.

“Restaurants have historically operated with highly regulated safety protocols based on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code and have taken additional steps to meet the safe operating guidelines required by the CDC, FDA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), federal, state and local officials,” the NRA stressed.

The NRA said it does not find evidence of a systemic spread of the coronavirus coming from restaurants that are effectively following its Restaurant Reopening Guidance, encouraging guests to wear masks, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.

“In effect, the lack of a direct correlation should be evidence that, when restaurants demonstrate effective mitigation efforts, the risk is low when dining outside or inside,” the NRA stated.

The NRA recently reported that nearly one in six restaurants — nearly 100,000 restaurants — has closed permanently or long term because of the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic.

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