As the coronavirus pandemic picked up speed in its spread across the U.S., leading players in the fast food industry announced—with varying levels of detail—aggressive plans to step up their cleaning and hygiene procedures to protect the community from contagion.
McDonald’s McDelivery procedures, according to one letter the chain sent to customers, were being enhanced to ensure order packaging would remain safe before it was delivered. Chick-fil-A said its heightened procedures surpassed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. And Shake Shack laid out specifics including sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizing stations, and new, fully-sealed bags for mobile to-go and delivery orders.
Today, the economy is seeing a phased-in reopening, and the restaurant industry—easily the hardest hit, accounting for 60 percent of March’s job losses—is participating. But we’ve also seen outbreaks of COVID-19 among employees, and workers from Chicago to Florida have struck over claims of unsafe working conditions. Clearly, the fast-food industry must double down on its health and safety precautions (including for the risks not involving physical health) to ensure the trust and confidence of the public and employees as everyone adjusts to the new normal.
Management’s attention will need to be sharpened on a variety of fronts as we move forward. Some of the broader safeguards to put in place are as follows.
Brush up your operational procedures
Contingency planning begins with evaluating how your current policies and procedures were followed during the pandemic and if expectations were met. After the evaluation is complete, now is the time to make adjustments for what’s ahead.
- Go over your pandemic response plan to identify and communicate operational priorities. This should include critical staffing levels and activities in support of staff.
- It may be worthwhile to contract with established and qualified cleaning and disinfecting vendors to ensure your COVID-19 exposures are minimized, and also to step up the frequency with which this is done. Required: their certificates of insurance, hold-harmless agreements and contracts.
Take extra steps to protect employee health
Providing workers with face masks and giving guidelines on social distancing almost go without saying. Managers must keep a keen eye to signs of illness, with strict policy reinforced.
- If employees are sick, they must stay home, and any exhibiting symptoms must see a healthcare professional.
- Wellness checks when employees arrive at work is worth considering. Designate a person to take temperatures and a set location, equipping the individual with PPE. A threshold for working or not should be set.
- Any worker who shows signs of a respiratory illness symptoms on the job should be separated and immediately evaluated by a healthcare professional.
- Good hygiene practices are not optional. These include frequent hand-washing, and observing sneezing and coughing etiquette. These should be covered by your policies and procedures; if new employees haven’t been trained or current workers given a refresher, given the circumstances, now is a good time to do so.
Key touchpoints areas of concern require extra attention
Your commitment to controlling the spread of the coronavirus can be exhibited by a regular schedule of cleaning—a thorough disinfection before you open and touch-ups throughout the day.
- Clean/disinfect frequently-touched surfaces often with disposable, alcohol-based wipes. This includes doorknobs, handles and push-plates; railings; switches for lights and air; and chairs. Tables need to be disinfected, too, as food-contact surfaces, they’ll have to be washed, rinsed and sanitized afterwards. And don’t forget the point-of-sale screens—but take care against damage.
- Restrooms are a sensitive area—everyone pays attention to their cleanliness. They should be cleaned and disinfected prior to opening and at least four times on a regular schedule during the day. Special attention should be paid to faucets and toilet flush levers.
COVID-19 also causes epidemic of cyber crimes
Online orders and digital payments spiked in March and April as restaurant deliveries and pickups became common during the coronavirus shutdown. It also caused a spike in reports of cybercrimes to the FBI—they’ve quadrupled during the pandemic. The risk of ransomware and email phishing can lead to credential theft and financial fraud, and restaurants should protect themselves as well as their clients against the dangers. Employees should be trained in your updated cyber security protocols to:
- Report suspicious emails to management.
- Never open unknown or suspicious links or attachments.
- Verify all requests for data or money before sending.
- Never respond to spam.
It’s a very different world out there that’s been influenced by a pandemic with a scope and spread caught many by surprise. Restaurants that are ready with the procedures and practices to keep everyone safe and as healthy as possible won’t find the comeback hard.
Mark Lee is an Assistant Vice President and Risk Consultant for global insurance brokerage Hub International. Hub is a leading insurer to the restaurant industry.