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Is it safe to eat at a buffet or salad bar?

One experiment in Japan found that it's easier than you think to spread a virus over dinner.

SAN DIEGO — A new viral video is raising questions about the safety of buffets and salad bars. The video shows how quickly coronavirus can spread in that type of setting.

With the help of health experts, Japanese public broadcasting organization NHK simulated a buffet-style restaurant inside a cruise ship. The video shows ten people, with one person singled out as the infected person.

A substance - only visible under black light - is applied to that person's hands. Each participant then goes about the buffet as one normally would.

When the lights turn off, you can see where the infection spread - from the food, to utensils, to even people's faces.

"That's called cross-contamination," said Mikey Knab. "It's something we in the food profession learn about a lot."

Knab, the owner of Ponce's, said the video is scary.

While his restaurants don't serve food in a buffet or salad bar setting, he doesn't think anyone will be able to do so for the foreseeable future.

"I don't see people feeling comfortable with that type of model anytime soon," said Knab.

That could impact cruise ships, casinos, and a number of independent restaurants.

Soup Plantation recently announced the permanent closure of its restaurants, saying it would be difficult to move forward after the Food and Drug Administration advised restaurants to halt the use of self-serving stations.

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Dr. William Tseng with Kaiser Permanente explained why.

"They can definitely spread that easily," said Tseng. It's much easier to transmit this than the flu."

Tseng said the video not only shows the ease of COVID-19 transmission, but it also highlights the importance of good hygiene.

"If you wash your hands, you can cut the risk of infection by 50%. That is the easiest thing to cut your infection risk," said Tseng.

As for Knab, like many restaurant owners, he's not sure when his business will reopen - only that things will be a lot different when the time comes.

"My restaurants will never reopen unless the safety of our customers and staff is ensured," said Knab.

NHK did a second experiment, where everyone, including the infected person, washed their hands before and during eating, and utensils were replaced or wiped down. In that experiment, the COVID-19 substance did not spread.

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