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Kroger opens self-serve salad bars against health authority guidelines

HOUSTON – While we try to limit the spread of the coronavirus, health officials are advising restaurants and customers against dining and eating from self-serve buffets and salad bars. Still, KPRC 2 found Kroger stores opening self-serve salad bars where you can scoop up your own greens with all the fixings. But should you?

The CDC, the FDA and the Texas Department of State Health Services all say any food or beverage stations that require customers to share utensils or dispensers are not a good idea, for obvious reasons.

That announcement was the steak knife that butchered the entire concept of salad bar chain Sweet Tomatoes. The company announced at the beginning of May, because of COVID-19, all of their restaurants would close permanently.

Salad bars and self-serve buffets in grocery stores have followed suit, some repurposing the salad bar areas entirely. But KPRC 2 noticed a Kroger store in Katy, on Spring Green and the Westpark Toll Road, with its salad bar fully open and individual utensils ready for customers to serve themselves. The store is in Fort Bend County, where the health department director told me they are following guidelines from the state and the CDC, but they’re only recommendations, not law.

Harris County health inspectors told KPRC 2 what they want to see at these types of salad bars.

“They can stay open as long as there is an employee there to serve the food at this time to avoid customers from using a lot of the same utensils,” said Deanna Copeland, the Harris County Food Safety Programs Manager. “We’d like to see trained food handlers there serving the food.”

When we reached out to Kroger, a spokesperson sent us this statement:

“After careful consideration, we are currently testing reopening a limited number of salad bars in response to customer requests. This decision was made only after reaching out to the health department for guidance and implementing additional safety measures, including sanitizing utensils after every customer and hourly cleaning of the area, in line with all CDC and local regulatory recommendations. We will continue to evaluate the situation and make any changes necessary to keep our customers safe and healthy.”

Both Harris County and Fort Bend Health Department say they have not spoken with anyone from Kroger about the issue.

Bottom line

The health department says self-serve salad bars and buffets are not a good idea right now.