One of the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has affected industry operations is by shining a spotlight on galley operations. “The whole boat has ramped up hygiene standards — lots of hand sanitizer at every doorway, for example,” says Chef Jemma Harrison, head chef on a 50-meter yacht. “Myself in the galley, I’m a furious handwasher anyway, but the whole COVID thing has just made me even more aware of good hygiene and how important it is to keep everything super-clean.”
“There has been a huge shift in taking extra precautions and sanitary steps during the pandemic, as well as outside the galley in terms of contact with others,” says Justine Murphy, CEO of mymuybueno Private Chefs. Here are expert tips for chefs to ensure your galley’s safety for all.
There’ve always been provisioning companies around the world ready to deliver, and the land-based food-delivery industry has exploded due to the pandemic. So, depending on where your yacht is and for how long, it’s relatively easy for chefs to avoid going ashore to provision. Nevertheless, many still prefer to do at least some of their marketing in person. “I want to see the food; I want to feel the food, to personally select the vegetables and meat,” says Chef Beverly Grant, founder and director of Crew Solutions.
If you do provision in person, however, it’s important to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintain social distance.
“Large purchases of meats or fish are often ordered and delivered, [but] for the day-to-day items, I find that the ‘shoppers’ in regular supermarkets don’t always do the best job picking out products,” says Chef Joseph Yacino, head chef and principal owner of YaDa Chef. “I have found even with the big yacht provisioners that often items are missed.”
If you do provision in person, however, it’s important to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintain social distance. Also important is how chefs handle the food once back on the yacht. Murphy reports: “The Superyacht Chef (@thesuperyachtchef) shared with me that, ‘COVID has been a real team effort for our yacht — every time provisions come on board, the entire interior team come out to wipe down every single package, box, and bag with alcohol spray. The deck team stand by to bring it all on board. Touch wood, it’s worked for us. Not a single COVID case on board.’” She adds, “When it comes to any produce, many chefs regularly use a chlorine tablet to clean fruit and vegetables that have been handled first.”
“We provisioned the whole boat for a trip from Palma to the Maldives and it was right in the thick of the COVID pandemic when everyone was being very cautious,” says Harrison. “We had a little tent set up on the dock and we were spraying all deliveries — food, engineers’ parts, toiletries — with a disinfectant spray. This included all foods from a bunch of grapes to a packet of pork sausages. We then left this to dry (or if fridge/freezer food, we towel-dried it and brought it straight on board). I’d say this was perhaps overkill, but our boss is very nervous of catching COVID…. We had to hire extra dayworkers just to help with cleaning provisions, but we did it.” She adds, “It would be quite sad being in Palma de Mallorca and not being able to go to the markets!”
As more has been learned about COVID-19 over time, some chefs have relaxed slightly about the need to disinfect, but it’s still important to keep your guard up. “The coronavirus does not have food survivability…. Don’t hose those provisions down with Lysol,” says Jim Distler, director of food safety and culinary for bluewater. “But, if you touch the packaging, then wash your hands.” He advises repackaging provisions in sanitary food-safe containers and discarding the original packaging — then wash your hands again!
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food,” says Yacino. “The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed at temperatures similar to [those for] other known viruses and bacteria found in food. Foods such as meat, poultry, and eggs should always be thoroughly cooked to at least 70°C. Washing fruits and vegetables in a vinegar-and-water solution is always a good idea.”
When it comes to keeping your galley clean and sanitary and your food prep safe, experts agreed that a professional yacht chef already should have the skills and protocols in place if they’ve earned the required level of certification for your position (for most chefs, MCA-approved Food Safety Level 2). “In my opinion, health and safety always come first. If you follow the procedures set forth by the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) management system, which all yacht chefs should be certified in, then no changes need to be made,” says Yacino. HACCP training “basically teaches how to store, handle, transport foods and other materials in a work environment. It also teaches about viruses, bacteria, and how to avoid them.”
Murphy agrees. “‘No different to normal’ is the overall consensus amongst yacht chefs, as any prep and cleaning surfaces in any kitchen should always be pathogen-free. Just [continue] to be attentive and thorough with cleaning schedules and high standards.” She says, “Many [chefs] are using the standard CDC and health-code cleaning solutions as they are proven to kill COVID: 4 teaspoons of 5.25–8.25 percent bleach per quart of room-temperature water. Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection for up to 24 hours. Alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol may also be used.”
Distler recommends using restaurant-level quaternary sanitizer, nicknamed “Quat.” “Everyone is sensitive about using harsh chemicals [on yachts],” he says. “Quat is very mild on surfaces, which is important in a luxury yacht interior.” He adds that the cleaner needs to stay on a surface for the required time to be effective. “Don’t do the quick wipe-down. Read the directions.”
He also is adamant about banning cell phones from the galley. “Phones carry the same amount of bacteria as a toilet seat. Leave it outside the galley,” he says. If you must make a call after a service, he adds, wash your hands. He also recommends that yachts consider investing in UV light sanitation equipment for cell phones.
Chefs should follow these basic food safety rules:
- Don’t work sick — prep an emergency menu that the stews can serve if you need to stay in your bunk
- Wear a fresh uniform and an apron
- No jewelry in the galley
- Maintain short, filed, unpolished fingernails
- Tie hair back
- Wash your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds)
- For right now, wear a mask
In accordance with international COVID-19 safety guidelines, many yacht chefs now wear masks and gloves while preparing food. But PPE use varies depending on galley size, setup, and traffic.
Kate Emery, founder and CEO of Amandine International Chef Placement, says, “Chefs should be used to following strict food safety guidelines on board a yacht at all times. ... However, in addition to their usual food-safety procedures, they should be wearing a protective mask and gloves at all times and changing them regularly.”
“Masks and gloves for all ready-to-eat foods,” Murphy says, adding, “Speaking with various chefs on my books, presuming everyone is thoroughly tested and quarantined [on board], you would not need to use masks otherwise.”
“A lot of chefs always wear gloves [and did so] even before COVID,” says Grant. While she recommends a mask, she adds that it depends on whether you’re the sole occupant of the galley. “Every boat is doing it differently.” For his part, Yacino says, “I personally don’t wear a mask whilst cooking. I also do not cough, sneeze, or drool on the food or any work surfaces. Gloves are often misused. I see people wearing gloves and touching everything without changing them…. If you don’t wear them, I often see people actually being safer because they constantly wash their hands.”
“You have a better barrier with good, clean skin because you have removed the bacteria,” says Distler, who adds that UK food safety standards do not require chefs to wear gloves. Harrison says, “No, [I am] not wearing masks and gloves. Only if contractors come on board. Guests and crew are in such close proximity we thought it would be futile.”
Pre-COVID, some galleys seemed like Grand Central, with crew congregating and guests stopping by to watch the chef. During COVID, however, experts agree that it’s safer to limit galley access to essential crew with an active role in the meal service. “It depends how big the galley is,” Emery says. “If the guest is wearing a mask and standing at a distance then yes, they can still come into the galley but clearly it has to be handled delicately and probably best if as a rule if the guests or anyone that is not part of the galley/interior team are not regularly invited….”
“No one should be in the galley unless they really need to be. This includes guests,” says Murphy. “Only those in the galley who are there specifically for a purpose, for minimal time.”
“When you’re in this bubble, you’ve got to keep the bubble clean,” says Grant. “The captains need to get more control.”
But is it really possible to keep them out? Harrison says no guests have ventured into her galley since the pandemic but, “There are no rules that would stop them.”
“What the boss wants, the boss gets,” says Distler. “But you’re the chef — you make the rules. Guests should maintain social distance; wash their hands right away when they come in with soap and water, not hand sanitizer, and wear a mask. Right now, nobody’s going to question you.”
“Unless I am giving a cooking class, it astounds me that people just come in and watch me work, but it is a very common occurrence,” says Chef Yacino. “As long as they respect my rules of not touching anything, and proper distancing, I have allowed guests to come in to chat and watch me.” Chef Grant recommends that if owners want to watch you cook, move the “stage” up to the flybridge with its outdoor grill or bring an induction cooktop out to the table.
As for non-essential crew, the experts warn they can unintentionally be a source of contaminants — especially if they go out socially when they’re off duty. “When you’re in this bubble, you’ve got to keep the bubble clean,” says Grant. “The captains need to get more control.”
Murphy reports, “I spoke with Chef Richard Everett who says, ‘The biggest risk factor is close contact outside the yacht. Make sure the chef and crew aren’t visiting other yachts or partying.’”
While food-safety and sanitation standards for superyacht chefs haven’t changed due to the pandemic, the importance of following them to the letter has become “a matter of life and death.” “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s awareness of how germs and viruses are transmitted,” Grant says. “At the very least, it has heightened the awareness that most professional chefs already had of sanitation and cleanliness in galley procedures that sadly were not always implemented as they should have been.”
This feature is taken from the February 2021 issue of Dockwalk.