These days, campus dining halls aren’t the usual lively scene of students socializing with friends, cramming for a fast-approaching exam or rushing off to their next class. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced campuses across the country to revamp their entire dining operations to bolster health safety measures and comply with social distancing guidelines. Many campus leaders have sought strategies to prioritize coronavirus prevention without sacrificing the whole student dining experience.
This article will review the current safety recommendations for campus dining to help institution leaders adjust to the new requirements more smoothly. We’ll also present various suggestions minimizing the risk of transmission via clean dining service practices, disinfecting routines and social distancing.
Adapting to Campus Dining Recommendations
Reworking campus dining is one of the most crucial, practical ways for academic authorities to protect their students’ health and safety. Because food safety is a critical component of preventing viral spread, taking extra precautions with college dining services can help keep the number of affected students and staff members low.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued food service safety guidelines specifically for higher education institutions. Many of these recommendations suggest keeping students and staff a minimum of six feet away from each other, which is the appropriate amount of space for social distancing. Because this novel coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets, which people can only exchange in close quarters, practicing social distancing can mitigate the spread of the virus.
Based on the CDC’s recommendations, here are 10 specific health and safety protocol suggestions for campus dining halls to enact.
- Offering safety supplies: Have personal protective equipment, such as face coverings and disposable gloves, available for students as soon as they enter the dining hall. Campus dining centers should also provide hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
- Separating tables: Space the dining hall’s tables and chairs in a way that allows everyone to remain at least six feet apart at all times. If it’s impossible to achieve this distance, install physical barriers like partitions and sneeze guards to keep people safe in areas that are challenging to social distance, such as around the cash register.
- Limiting indoor capacity: Many campus dining halls will need to restrict capacity to keep students properly socially distanced. Campus dining directors can do so by discouraging indoor seating, providing outdoor seating options and requiring students to make reservations for indoor tables.
- Avoiding self-service: Avoid offering any self-service food options, such as a salad bar, condiment station, and small appliances like a waffle maker or toaster. Dining halls may also need to switch from a buffet-style setup to a cafeteria-style model with one-way service lines and clear physical guides, such as tape on the floors and signs on the walls, to ensure those in line remain six feet apart at all times.
- Providing to-go options: Campuses should provide pre-portioned grab-and-go options to limit the amount of time students spend in the dining hall. Other dining solutions include allowing students to place takeout and delivery orders.
- Discouraging shared items: To ensure students do not share common food, condiments or utensils, offer disposable condiment packets, plates and utensils.
- Making pre-packaged meals: If offering food at a campus event, provide pre-packaged meals for each attendee instead of setting out a buffet or family-style service.
- Extending hours of operation: Some campus dining establishments may need to expand their hours to ensure every student gets a chance to eat without risking a mealtime rush and overcrowding the dining hall.
- Providing no-touch accommodations: Tissues and no-touch or foot-pedal disposal containers should be available for students, faculty and staff to use.
- Investing in touchless technology: If possible, a higher education institution should install touchless technology, such as touchless payment options, no-contact vending machines and touch-free beverage dispensers.
Minimizing the Risk of Transmission During Preparation
A central component of halting viral spread through campus dining involves minimizing transmission during the food prep process. Colleges and universities must require dining establishment workers to take specific precautions while preparing and serving food. The institution should thoroughly train every dining hall worker in the appropriate health and safety protocols.
Crucially, dining center employees should only come to work if they are 100% sure they are healthy. To avoid any sick employees showing up to work, campus dining centers should have a screening process in place, such as taking workers’ temperatures or having them fill out a current state of health survey. If any employee does not pass the screening process, send them home immediately. Also, don’t let someone work if they’ve been in contact with a sick person.
For employees who pass the approval process to work, it is imperative to have these five hygiene measures in place.
- Proper protective equipment and supplies: Require every employee to use PPE and other resources, such as a face covering, face shield, gloves, disinfectants and hand sanitizer.
- A touchless clock-in system: Provide workers with the opportunity to clock in without touching any papers or surfaces. If this is not possible, keep hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes close to the designated clock-in area.
- Individualized items: Instruct employees not to share personal equipment, tools, pens, phones, scanners, etc. If they accidentally use the same things, carefully clean and disinfect them after each use.
- Hand-washing supplies: Keep all hand-washing and hand sanitizer facilities fully stocked at all times and make sure employees clean their hands frequently.
- Food prep gloves: Require employees to wear gloves whenever handling food, making sure they change gloves between each work area and task.
Once dining center workers are ready to begin preparing the food, it is essential to practice social distancing as much as possible by maintaining at least six feet between themselves and other workers. To accomplish this, campus dining hall directors can follow these guidelines.
- Maintain social distance: Evaluate the current areas used for food prep to ensure there is enough space to keep six feet of separation between workers while they perform required tasks. If not, make the necessary changes.
- Streamline tasks: If possible, assign food workers repetitive tasks to minimize the need to move to other parts of the kitchen for additional supplies.
- Limit employees in the kitchen: Stagger employees’ shifts and breaks and expand work hours to create additional shifts, reducing the number of workers in the kitchen each work period.
- Direct traffic flow: Assess the traffic patterns throughout the kitchen and identify any “chokepoints” where it may be challenging to maintain six feet of distance, such as entryways, hallways, elevators, waiting areas or break rooms. Post signs to guide traffic flow and reduce clustering.
- Minimize cross-department interactions: Limit employee interaction across floors, buildings and work sites.
- Protect employees from exposure: Use physical barriers like Plexiglas partitions to increase the space between workers in customer-facing roles and the students.
Adjusting Cleaning and Disinfecting Routines
Though campus dining facilities already had regular cleaning procedures, most dining centers will need to adopt a more intensified disinfecting routine. Viral spread can happen alarmingly fast, which means all college and university campus dining establishments must take extreme measures to ensure their equipment’s and facilities’ cleanliness.
One of the most crucial coronavirus prevention measures to take is using a disinfectant that has received EPA approval for its ability to kill the germs that cause COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. Using an EPA-certified disinfectant will ensure your campus dining establishments are fighting against this novel coronavirus as effectively as possible.
Some of the specific CDC-recommended cleaning and disinfecting practices for higher education campuses include:
- Frequently sanitizing high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, hand railings, dining hall tables, bathroom stalls, sink handles, etc.
- Developing a stringent schedule for increased routine cleanings and disinfection efforts, especially for any dining areas and food contact surfaces
- Ensuring there is adequate ventilation whenever your team members use cleaning products and disinfectants to prevent any staff members or students from inhaling toxic fumes
- Limiting the use of shared objects and thoroughly cleaning common items between each use
- Encouraging students, staff and faculty to disinfect any shared objects before using them by posting signs about how to do so effectively
- Making sure any transport vehicle drivers, such as to-go order deliverers, clean and disinfect their vehicles, wear the proper PPE and practice all the other safety actions and protocols as other staff members
- Providing hand-washing stations or hand sanitizer near high-touch areas and building exits and entrances
- Safely storing all cleaning and disinfection products
College and university campus dining coordinators may want to consider implementing these additional sanitary practices:
- Devising a sanitation checklist of each essential surface and pieces of equipment that must get routinely cleaned and disinfected, including which cleaning product to use
- Protecting any electronic devices and switches with a poly covering, so people can still use and clean these regularly without any worry of a liquid agent damaging the device
- Creating a system for communicating when a high-touch surface is clean, such as a laminated card with a green side indicating the surface is sanitary and a red side showing when it is not
The Importance of Flexibility
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things can change in an instant. Because circumstances are ever-evolving, college and university campus authorities must be flexible and adapt quickly as new information and safety measures regarding the pandemic continue coming to light.
The guidelines and suggestions from health experts are still rapidly changing from day to day, which means institution leaders must be willing and able to keep up with the latest safety protocols. These include quickly adjusting their dining establishment policies and procedures to protect students’ health and stay abreast of safe dining trends as best they can according to the information they have.
Though students’ on-campus dining experiences may need to change, higher education institutions can still provide a safe and healthy environment for students and employees during these uncertain times. With some careful planning and ample flexibility, colleges and universities can continue to offer students high-quality dining options they can trust.
Solutions for Social Distanced Dining
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many technological innovations have emerged as viable solutions for socially distanced dining. Modern technology has provided some more forward-thinking solutions for safe dining on higher education campuses.
Specifically, these five technologically advanced touchless products can help students stay safe, healthy and well-fed throughout the semester.
- Touchless nano markets: While mini markets are typically a hit on college and university campuses due to the convenience they offer, they can be hot spots for high-contact surfaces. Placing nano grab-and-go markets around campus that allow students to scan the item they’re purchasing and be on their way is an excellent touchless payment strategy.
- Touchless vending machines: Often, busy students rely on vending machines for a quick snack between classes. Thanks to modern solutions like kickplates and elbow pulls, students can get their favorite snack or beverage from the vending machine through a completely contactless process.
- Touchless coffee solutions: Everyone knows that a late-night cup of coffee is essential for long nights of studying. Now, students can get their caffeine fix without coming into contact with any potentially contaminated surfaces by using their smartphones to order coffee from a touchless station.
- Touchless beverage dispensers: Coffee isn’t the only beverage students can get touch-free — a Bevi Touchless machine enables students to choose from several flavors of sparkling water by making the selection on their smartphone. A Bevi Touchless also provides filtered still water for students to enjoy.
- Touchless water filtration devices: A hands-free water dispenser with designated foot pedals for hot and cold water can help students stay hydrated without creating high-contact surfaces as a more traditional water fountain or water cooler would. Instead of touching the same dispensing tab as thousands of other people, students can step on the foot pedal to fill their water bottles.
Partner With American Dining Creations to Provide Students Safe, Healthy Dining Options
If you’re looking for innovative dining solutions to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, contact American Dining Creations about how we can enhance well-being on your higher education campus. Our team of culinary fanatics prioritizes supplying our hospitality partners with fresh, flavorful menu items custom-made to accommodate their needs.
As a combination hospitality and culinary company, American Dining Creations offers your campus premium meal plans that are easily customizable to suit your institution’s COVID-19 safety precautions. Our team will work alongside your campus dining coordinators to come up with innovative dining solutions for your institution, such as touchless technology options.
To find out how American Dining Creations can help your campus provide delicious, socially distanced dining opportunities, contact us today.