Hygiene will change after the Covid-19 pandemic the way security changed after the 9/11 terror attacks, says Anurag Katriar. He isn’t exaggerating either. Katriar, president of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), has a ringside view of this paradigm shift.
In a world with a highly contagious virus—one which has already infected over 2.5 million people globally—safety is a top priority. Everyone wants to know how safe the restaurant they’re eating at is, or how stringent their co-working place is about cleanliness. With literal life and death stakes, however, businesses will have to go the extra mile to convince patrons about their hygiene standards.
And that is where Mumbai-based Equinox Labs comes in.
A health ratings agency, 15-year-old Equinox audits and certifies the hygiene standards of restaurants and offices in the country. These ratings—scored on a scale of five—are done based on a yearly inspection. “The business of third-party inspection is set to skyrocket,” says Ashwin Bhadri, Equinox’s founder.
Already, India’s two largest food delivery platforms, Swiggy and Zomato, are explicitly mentioning the hygiene standards of the restaurants on their platforms. These include, among others, social distancing on the workfloor, washing hands, temperature checks, and sanitisation measures. Corporates, too, are ramping up their housekeeping department or hiring external agencies which specialise in sanitisation.
The importance of these measures is already visible. Restaurants listed on Zomato with a good hygiene rating have fared 20% better than those without hygiene ratings, a spokesperson from Zomato told The Ken via email. As these ratings gain prominence and show results, the demand for services like Equinox will only grow.
It is not that these guidelines didn’t exist before Covid-19. The country’s food safety watchdog, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), issued guidelines on food safety and hygiene way back in 2006. At the time, Equinox was scarcely a year old, having begun life as a water testing company. Over the years, it diversified into air and food testing as well.
Offices and workspaces, meanwhile, have international certifications, like the United States’ Occupational Safety and Hygiene Administration’s guidelines, commonly known as OSHA.
The problem, though, is that FSSAI’s regulations are voluntary and not enforceable in their entirety. OSHA certification, while well-respected globally, is expensive and not generally attempted by Indian companies. As both customers and employees begin to demand safe business environments, however, compliance is no longer an option.
Over the coming months, companies will likely go to extreme lengths to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections. There will be reduced human contact and regular temperature checks. The emphasis will be on cleaning everything—from doorknobs and keyboards to arm-rests and even the very air that’s circulated within offices.
It isn’t just about enforcing new health standards.