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Frequently Asked Questions about Coronavirus (COVID-19) for Institutional Food Service Operators
Serving in Communal or Congregate Settings
Stagger mealtimes to reduce indoor (and outdoor) seating capacity, and seating should be spaced with at least 6 feet of distance in between. Encourage diners to remain at least 6 feet apart in food service lines and at tables while eating, and wear masks over their nose and mouth between periods of eating and drinking. Provide a clean place for diners to store mask when eating (e.g., disposable paper bag).
Encourage diners to wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol before and after meals.
- Encourage proper hand hygiene by providing handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in prominent locations for diners and staff.
- Place hand hygiene stations in locations where diners can access them before eating and after discarding food.
When to Clean
Cleaning with products containing soap or detergent reduces germs on surfaces and objects by removing contaminants and may weaken or damage some of the virus particles, which decreases risk of infection from surfaces.
Cleaning high touch surfaces and shared objects once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove virus that may be on surfaces unless someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 has been in your facility. Disinfecting (using disinfectants on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s List Nexternal icon) removes any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces any risk of spreading infection. For more information on cleaning your facility regularly and cleaning your facility when someone is sick, see Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility
When to Disinfect
You may want to either clean more frequently or choose to disinfect (in addition to cleaning) in shared spaces if certain conditions apply that can increase the risk of infection from touching surfaces.
- High transmission of COVID-19 in your community
- Low number of people wearing masks
- Infrequent hand hygiene
- The space is occupied by people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19
If there has been a sick person or someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in your facility within the last 24 hours, you should clean AND disinfect the space.
Use Disinfectants Safely
Always follow standard practices and appropriate regulations specific to your facility for minimum standards for cleaning and disinfection. For more information on cleaning and disinfecting, see Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.
- Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and provide acceptable indoor air quality for the current occupancy level for each space.
- Increase ventilation using air from outside, using caution in highly polluted areas. When weather conditions allow, increase fresh outdoor air by opening windows and doors. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk to diners or employees (e.g., risk of falling or triggering asthma symptoms).
- Consider ventilation system upgrades or improvements and other steps to increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminants. Consult with experienced heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) professionals when considering changes to HVAC systems and equipment. This may include some or all of the following activities:
- Increase airflow to occupied spaces when possible.
- Disable demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on occupancy or temperature during occupied hours.
- Open outdoor air dampers beyond minimum settings to reduce or eliminate HVAC air recirculation. In mild weather, this will not affect thermal comfort or humidity. However, this may be difficult to do in cold, hot, or humid weather.
- Improve central air filtration to as high as possible without significantly diminishing design airflow.
- Inspect filter housing and racks to ensure appropriate filter fit and check for ways to minimize filter bypass.
- Check filters to ensure they are within service life and appropriately installed.
- Consider running the HVAC system at maximum outside airflow for 2 hours before and after occupied times.
- Decrease occupancy in areas where outdoor ventilation cannot be increased.
- Set up multiple food pick-up and dirty drop-off points to facilitate social distancing. For settings with limited space, consider using tables or rolling kiosks to offer meals in a nearby area, such as a hallway.
- Place plexiglass barriers at dining tables if diners cannot stay 6 feet apart.
- Consider assigning staff to direct diners to prevent congregation in areas that can become easily crowded (e.g., entrances to service lines, dirty drop-off stations, self-service food and beverage stations).
State and local public health departments will determine whether it is safe to open self-service food and drink options. These determinations are typically made based on what is happening in the local community, including factors such as the community levels of COVID-19.
In general, CDC recommends avoiding any self-serve food or drink options, such as hot and cold food bars, salad or condiment bars, and beverage stations. Serve grab-and-go items or individually plated meals, instead.
- For individually plated meals, identify one staff member per service station to serve food so that multiple staff are not handling serving utensils.
- Ensure adequate supplies for staff to minimize sharing of high-touch materials (e.g., serving spoons) to the extent possible; otherwise, limit use of supplies and equipment to one group of workers at a time and clean and disinfect between use or as much as possible.
However, if self-serve stations are offered:
- Require diners to wear a mask over the nose and mouth when serving themselves food.
- Provide unpackaged food items behind a barrier and limit diners’ bare-hand contact with utensils and/or dispensers by providing deli/wax papers, disposable gloves, and/or disposable serving utensils that are thrown out after each diner uses them.
- Provide handwashing stations or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and encourage use before and after use of self-service station.
- Encourage diners and food workers to remain at least 6 feet apart in areas that can easily become crowded (e.g., standing in line, dirty dish return) and while eating, by providing physical guidance and visual cues, such as tape or graphics on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls.
- Don’t allow diners to grab items from reach-in refrigeration units or cabinets. Instead, serve individual cartons, bottles, and/or condiment packets with meals that diners can pick up without opening a door.
- Do not reuse or allow diners to share items (e.g., paper menus) that are difficult to clean, sanitize, or disinfect.
- If shared objects (e.g., utensils, tongs) are used, replace at an increased frequency (e.g., every 15 minutes, between cohorts). Ensure shared objects are easy to clean.
- Provide no-touch or foot-pedal trash receptacles.
- Consider assigning staff to monitor service stations to observe diners’ behaviors and apply corrective actions to prevent potential contamination and encourage social distancing and hand hygiene. For example:
- Discard food items if contaminated by diners (e.g., self-service utensil submerged in food; diner sneezes on food).
Yes, disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes, napkins, tablecloths, trays) should be used. If disposable items are not feasible or desirable:
- Provide adequate bins for dirty items and no-touch or foot-pedal trash receptacles so that diners can drop off or throw away used food service items (e.g., trays, dishes, utensils) without contaminating themselves.
- Handle used or dirty non-disposable food service items with gloves. Employees should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after handling used food service items.
- Wash, rinse, and sanitize used or dirty food contact surfaces with an EPA-registeredexternal icon food contact surface sanitizer. If a food-contact surface must be disinfected for a specific reason, such as a blood or bodily fluid cleanup, or deep cleaned because of likely contamination with the virus that causes COVID-19, use the following procedure: wash, rinse, disinfect according to the label instructions with a product registered for food contact surfaces, rinse, then sanitize with a food-contact surface sanitizer.
- Change and launder linen items (e.g., napkins and tablecloths) after each diner’s use.
Delivering Food to People in Isolation or Quarantine
Note: This may apply to workers living in staff quarters or students living in dorms.
- Require staff to wear a mask over their nose and mouth when delivering meals.
- Avoid person-to-person contact using contact-free delivery methods—for example, leaving food outside of door and knocking to notify person who is in isolation or quarantine that meal has arrived. Staff should wash hands or use hand sanitizer and change gloves (if applicable) after delivering food.
- Quarantined or isolated people should eat in their own room, separate from others.
- Use disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes, napkins, tablecloths). Provide trash bags for quarantined or isolated people.
- Use gloves when removing garbage bags and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves or after handling used food service items.
For more information, please see:
Note: This may apply to patients in hospitals or residents in long-term care facilities.
- Use disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes, napkins, tablecloths).
- If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, handle non-disposable food service items with gloves and ensure they are washed, rinsed, and sanitized to meet food safety requirements. People handling used or dirty food service items should clean their hands immediately after removing gloves.
- Staff entering rooms with isolated or quarantined people to deliver food or pick up dirty items should follow infection control guidance and use personal protective equipment.
- Staff who enter the room of a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection should adhere to Standard Precautions and use a NIOSH-approved N95 or equivalent or higher-level respirator (or facemask if a respirator is not available), gown, gloves, and eye protection.
- Quarantined or isolated people should eat in their own room, separate from others.