The COVID-19 pandemic has cruise lines, resorts and casinos around the country rethinking how to modify or eliminate buffet service — and that’s good news.
NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting organization, in collaboration with infectious disease experts, recently conducted an experiment to demonstrate how quickly COVID-19 and other viruses can spread at a buffet aboard a cruise ship or in a restaurant. The network posted a video of the experiment that has gone viral.
The experiment recreated a buffet scenario common in the travel industry. Ten participants were asked to serve themselves from a display that featured various hot and cold dishes as well as beverage options.
Invisible fluorescent paint — visible only under a black light — was applied to the palm of one person. That person represented an “infected” person who had coughed into his hand. The paint represented the virus.
All the participants were allowed to enjoy the buffet freely for 30 minutes.
Afterward, the room was darkened. Under ultraviolet light, experimenters were able to observe that traces of the glowing paint had spread among the participants, on the table and elsewhere.
After the “infected” person touched various items — including a lid covering on a hot food container, a pair of tongs, and the handle of a beverage pitcher — the “virus” was transferred by other participants to a wide array of items, including silverware, dishes, glassware, clothing and mobile phones. Several participants had paint on their hands and three had paint on their faces.
In an alternative version of the experiment, the scientists set up the buffet taking measures to protect against infection. Dishes were separated, tongs were replaced frequently, and diners were encouraged to clean their hands before, during and after the meal. In that scenario, the paint spread 97 percent less than in the first experiment and did not end up on any of the other participants’ faces.