The following letter, which was dated June 10, was delivered to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion and signed off by various restaurateurs and supported by the Chambers of Commerce and Hotel & Tourism Associations territory-wide.
Dear Governor Bryan and Commissioner Encarnacion:
On behalf of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel & Tourism Association, St. Croix Hotel & Tourism Association, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce and a substantial number of USVI restaurateurs, we are grateful for the actions you have taken to protect the citizens of the Virgin Islands against COVID-19. For the most part, we believe these steps have been necessary and successful to contain the spread of COVID-19 in our islands. We in the private sector are ready and willing to collaborate with the government to ensure reasonable guidelines that rationally balance competing interests.
In these unprecedented times, we understand you have not had a playbook to lead the way. Given the government’s reliance on Centers for Disease Control guidelines, we were alarmed to learn of a needless and unwarranted deviation adopted without private sector consultation. The decision to require restaurants to use disposable plates, cutlery, and beverage containers, and to encourage guests to bring their own contradicts the guidelines issued by the CDC. The CDC guidelines state:
• Use disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes, napkins, tablecloths). If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water, or in a dishwasher. Change and launder linen items (e.g., napkins and tablecloths) after each customer or party’s use. Employees should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after handling used food service items.
• Avoid use of food and beverage utensils and containers brought in by customers.
The use of disposables is both unfeasible and undesirable. Based on a survey of select restaurants, we found that for nearly all dining venues, take-out revenues were no substitute for on-site dining. Tourism is now returning, and local residents are also anxious to have a pleasurable dining experience.
Even good quality disposable ware does not meet the expectation of a quality dining experience for our visitors or locals. Disposables are not designed for finer dining kitchens where food is kept under a heat lamp while the order is being completed. Plastic simply is not designed to handle hot food under heat lamps intended to maintain ServSafe temperatures. Plastic could melt in these circumstances.
We understand that COVID-19 survives in a transmittable form on all surfaces, including plastic. Therefore, reusable food ware, such as ceramic dishware and metal utensils properly cleaned and sanitized is just as safe as single use food ware. In fact, reusable food ware is probably even cleaner than disposable products, which are not often sanitized prior to consumer use. Furthermore, there are substantial additional effects associated with disposables: The expense of purchasing the necessary wares and the burden on our already failing landfill.
We have estimates from various restaurants that the additional expense will run between $1,100 and $7,000 a month, depending on the volume of guests and the quality of the wares. Businesses simply cannot afford this additional expense when they are struggling just to stay open.
Environmentally, the amount of plastic this requirement will add to our landfill will be disastrous. The Anguilla Landfill has caught fire seven times in the last year, and the Bovoni dump was recently burning again. We should not be adding unnecessary plastic to an already bad situation. These fires release toxic chemicals into the air, and adding unnecessary plastic waste to the landfill will only worsen this issue.
Several of our restaurants have their dishwashers inspected by companies such as KLR and Sanitation Solutions weekly for water temperature, chemicals, mechanical operation, and sanitation to international standards of food service safety. Any shortcomings are noted and corrected immediately. Utensils that do not go through the dishwasher are washed in a manner that complies with USVI Department of Health requirements. These practices are far superior to serving guests with disposables that are not subject to the same high standard of sanitation.
KLR states that it upholds the high service standards of OSHA, Health, CFESA, and the National Restaurant Association, and ensures equipment is cleaned and sanitizing properly and chemicals are being dispensed accurately. Research shows that not a single case of COVID-19 infection has been confirmed from a commercial restaurant dish machine, but the COVID-19 virus will remain on cardboard and plastics.
The use of gloves also should be carefully reviewed. Use of gloves by the front of the house staff should be limited to setting up, polishing glasses, rolling silverware, etc. As Commissioner Encarnacion explained in a June 3 webinar, it is safer to wash and sanitize. Gloves will transmit virus and bacteria the same way our hands will. What is worse, gloves give the server a false sense of security and minimizes the urge to wash or sanitizes hands.
The USVI mandate that all restaurants use disposable wares was adopted without a balanced representation of restaurateurs and without a comprehensive understanding of the benefits and costs. We urge you to adopt the CDC Guidelines for restaurants, which offers far better protection to the dining public without imposing unnecessary and costly demands on restaurants and avoiding overloading the landfill with plastic.
These are extremely financially-challenging times for all businesses, in particular restaurants. Our restaurants expected some relief with the opening to tourism.
We should give them every chance to succeed while protecting the health and safety of our hospitality employees and the dining public. We urge you to reconsider and would be happy to consult if you need further clarification.
— Terri Brown, USVI Hotel and Tourism Association chairman; Suzanne Rosbach, St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association president; Emily Weston and Cindy Clearwater, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce; Sebastiano Paiewonsky Cassinelli, St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce; Lisa Hamilton, USVI Hotel and Tourism Hotel President; Trudie Prior, Old Stone Farmhouse; James Dixon and Kristy Solt, St. Thomas Restaurant Group; Zack Zoller, Sunset Grille; Clint Gaskins, The Easterly; Ed Foerstel, French Quarter Bistro; Monesh Mohanani and J. Dexter, Brix Wine Bar & Bistro; Steve Boswell, Prime Steakhouse; Patricia LaCorte, Oceana Restaurant and Bistro; Ryan Constanzo, Thomas Garfield and Creagh Spallino, Extra Virgin Bistro and 1864; Carlos and Maria Diblasi, Morgan’s Mango; Alexandra Ewald, La Tapa; Erica and Robin Miner, The Terrace Restaurant; Scott Derrickson, Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove; Cliff Brutus, The Ritz-Carlton; Terri Pantusco, Caribbean Saloon; Judy and Phil Payne, National Parts; Tara Becker, Rum Runners Restaurant; Topher Swanson, The Fred; Jennie Ogden, GoToStCroix.com; Ted Bedwell and Chris Richardson, Sand Castle on the Beach; Sandy Joines, The Palms at Pelican Cove; Lisa and Isla Bertrand, Dinghy’s Beach Bar & Grill; Jennifer Seay, Common Cents Pub; Leo and Jennifer Sibilly, Sib’s on the Mountain; Vicki Locke and Rebecca Hensley, The Buccaneer; Scott Bryan, Flyers Bar & Grill; Dave and Jane Kendrick, Uptown Eatery; Dustin Kendrick, Too Chez; Emily Westin, Tap Deck; Lee Eisenhauer, KLR; Frank Duggan, Duggan’s Reef; Katherine Pugliese, Un Amore; Kate and Tom Miller, Savant; and Adrian Hale, Jason Slocum and Jeff Lemen, Smoking Rooster and Greengos Caribbean Cantina.