The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the way food trucks and restaurants operate.

If you own or operate a restaurant or food truck in Los Angles County, California, it is essential that you follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) and the Los Angeles Health Department’s COVID-19 protocols. 

Safety protocols have been put in place to protect the most vulnerable members of the population and prevent the nation’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed. 

Since restaurants and other food service establishments have direct contact with the public, everyone in the industry must comply with present and future changes to the CDC’s restaurant operation standards. 

It seems like we have all had to become infectious disease experts overnight. While food safety and sanitation have always gone hand-in-hand, the new restaurant operation standards require workers to take even more extreme precautions. 

Health Department Requirements

The CDC has developed a set of guiding principles for restaurants and food trucks to follow. These guidelines include a staged reopening plan for restaurants and bars.

The Staged Approach

First Stage

The food service businesses with the lowest risk factors are drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curbside pickup restaurants. For this reason, many food-based establishments that once seated diners have now switched to one of the setups listed above. Operational overhauls can be exhausting and expensive. 

Second Stage

During the CDC’s second reopening stage, they permit outdoor on-site dining. During this stage, outdoor tables must be placed at least 6 feet apart. Diners must don protective face masks whenever they are not able to maintain the state’s physical distancing requirements.

Third Stage

The CDC’s third stage opens the door to on-site dine-in services. Of course, there are still many amended operational guidelines. For example, tables must be seated at least 6 feet apart. During this stage, shared condiments and other self-serve stations must be kept closed.

The Fourth Stage

During the fourth and final restaurant reopening stage, all establishments, including bars and wineries, can resume their normal onsite operations.

These phases go into effect when the CDC and other public health organizations deem them appropriate.

Physical Distancing Requirements

The L.A. County Health Department has issued stringent physical distancing requirements for all restaurant employees, curbside customers, and in-person diners. According to the department’s most recent public health protocol publication, these protocols must be followed by all food service establishments.

  • Whenever possible, an employee must be posted 6-feet from the front door of an establishment. The employee is responsible for monitoring and reinforcing physical distance requirements. They must inform guests of the physical distancing rules whenever necessary. They must also track the number of guests entering the establishment at any given time to ensure that it is never at over capacity. 
  • Establish clearly marked queues wherever customers and employees are likely to congregate in large numbers. Use tape or adhesive panels to establish areas for people in lines or waiting areas to stand or be seated. The markings must be at least 6 feet apart. You may also use directional markers to establish one-way routes for food pick-up, food ordering, etc. 
  • Close indoor seating areas in which physical distancing is not possible. These areas include but are not limited to food courts, entertainment venues, and banquet halls.
  • Establish an online ordering or reservation system. Cap dining times to ensure that you can serve the most customers possible while still complying with federal and state physical distancing rules. Use your online system to notify customers when their orders are ready. 
  • Establish a clear limit for the number of guests that may dine together. Keep tables at least 6 feet apart at all times. 
  • Establish clear guidelines for customer and employee interactions. Interactions should last no more than 5 minutes. Waitstaff and customers should don cloth face masks during their interactions. 
  • Install Plexiglas barriers in between tables and/or chairs. What’s more, install them in front of counters, bagging stations, host stands, and registers. These are yet another protective barrier between employees and customers. 
  • Post physical distancing signage and markings in kitchens, pantries, freezers, break rooms, and restrooms. 

Understanding the Risks

There is still a lot that scientists do not know about the novel coronavirus. However, at this point, they do understand how the disease is spread. 

Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets. These are expelled when people sneeze or cough. For this reason, the CDC and other health organizations have advised people to wear protective face coverings whenever they are not capable of physical distancing. 

It is important to note that there is currently no evidence that suggests that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food or food packaging. Therefore, restaurants can continue to serve their customers so long as they comply with physical distancing requirements. 

Checklist for Reopening

If you’re thinking of reopening your business during COVID-19, consider taking the following precautions:

Hire a third-party cleaning agency to inspect and sanitize your restaurant’s HVAC system. The L.A. Department of Health also recommends the use of additional air filtration systems.

Hire a third-party cleaning agency to clean and disinfect your establishment before reopening. You may also hire a professional cleaning company to perform regular after-hours sanitation services. 

Get Access to the Resources You Need to Succeed

The California Restaurant Association has worked to ensure that local food service establishments have everything they need to succeed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Check out their website to find a list of reliable PPE vendors. Then, check to see what reopening phase is currently being implemented. 

You can also use their site to access information about federal, state, and local restaurant and food service relief programs. Use the tools on the page to provide your employees with information about occupational health, job security, and unemployment. 

PPE Requirements

As we all know, PPE is one of the least expensive and most effective tools we have for controlling the coronavirus. For this reason, the L.A. Health Department has insisted that all restaurant employees wear face coverings (masks that cover the mouth and nose) when they are interacting with other people, including customers, vendors, and coworkers. 

As an employer, you are required to supply your employees with free face masks. Your employees may prefer to use their own face coverings. 

Important: Workers who are unable to wear cloth face coverings for health reasons must don protective face shields with drapes instead of cloth masks. 

It is important to note that waitstaff should be wearing both cloth face masks and face shields when serving or interacting with unmasked customers. Your cloth face mask prevents you from spreading respiratory droplets. However, it does not protect you from another person’s respiratory droplets.

In addition to the PPE requirements, waitstaff should limit customer interactions and maintain physical distancing at all times.

Tip for Success: Place signage around your restaurant. Display posters that explain the correct way to wear and care for cloth and disposable masks. Remind your employees that they should not be touching their faces. Many people do not realize when they do this. 

Employees should also be practicing proper hand hygiene. Well-stocked handwashing stations, gloves, and hand sanitizer should never be in short supply. 

Payment Requirements

There is no denying the fact that the pay stations in restaurants are incredibly hands-on. First off, there are often multiple employees using the same checkout station. What’s more, customers are typically required to touch several items, including payment portals, credit card readers, styluses, and pens. 

Inform your employees of the need to disinfect these areas regularly. (The CDC recommends that pay stations be disinfected at least once every hour.) Keep EPA-approved disinfectants nearby. You may also keep containers of used and unused pens or styluses on hand. These need to be disinfected after every use. 

Consider nominating one employee to regularly disinfect shared surfaces and objects. 

Off-Limits Shared Access Items

Restaurants can reduce contact between customers by carefully eliminating all shared-access items. 

Restaurants should replace shared condiments with single-serving alternatives. Shared-access or self-service paper goods and other meal accompaniments should also be eliminated. Self-service food stations and shared-access sample stations should also be ceased until further notice.

Eliminate shared access to the following items:

  • Napkins, cup holders, cups, utensils, etc.
  • Condiments, salsa bars, salad bars, buffets, samples
  • Stop tableside food prep and do not refill from the same container
  • Toothpicks, candies, mints

You should also work to space your customers appropriately at all times. Spacing is essential during:

  • Seated dining
  • Trips to the restrooms
  • Lines and pay stations
  • Retail browsing
  • Food pickup

Understand that most restaurants play host to a variety of clients, including dine-in customers, dine-out customers, vendors, and food delivery personnel. Do your best to establish separate zones for each of these visitors. Post your protocols online or reach out to clients through email. 

Signage Requirements

Restaurant and food truck owners must post a copy of the L.A. Health Department’s COVID-19 Protocol at the entrances of their establishments. They are also required to post signs about L.A.’s face mask and physical distancing requirements. Business owners can visit the CDC’s website to find free printables.

Food Standards

There are a few things that your employees can do to ensure that coronavirus is not spread through food. The FDA has established a four-part guide to safely preparing food during a global health crisis.

Clean: Employees should wash and sanitize their hands and workstations frequently. In addition to washing surfaces that come in contact with food, employees should also be tasked with sanitizing high-touch surfaces, including doorknobs, counters, and equipment.

Separate: They should keep raw meats and other food apart. 

Cook: All foods should be cooked to a safe temperature. 

Chill: Foods that are not cooked should be refrigerated for frozen. 

Dine-In Recommendations

There are several steps that you can and should take to prevent the spread of coronavirus inside your eatery. Here are just a few of the steps that you can take to keep your food service operation running smoothly.

  • Use technology to make your life easier. Set up online ordering and reservation systems. Ask customers for their contact information when they are making in-person reservations. You may need to contact them in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak. 
  • Set up contact-free pickup zones. Allow customers to pay online or over the phone. Have their order ready during a designated pick-up window. Avoid customer-employee interactions during pickup. 
  • Expand your outdoor seating areas. Build a temporary patio or install shaded tents. Even as the state permits onsite dining, diners may prefer to enjoy a meal outside. 
  • Advise diners to wait outside or in their cars until their tables are ready. Avoid letting crowds congregate in or around your restaurant.
  • Eliminate shared paper menus. Utilize electronic tablets, disposable paper menus, or laminated sheets instead. Sanitize menus between uses.

Breaks

Ensure that your employees can maintain physical distancing during breaks. Stagger break times while ensuring that you are still complying with federal break requirements. Disinfect all break rooms and restrooms. Place EPA-approved disinfectants in clearly marked stations. Develop and distribute guidelines for coworker interactions. Make sure every one of your employees has a copy of these guidelines. 

If possible, create shaded outdoor break areas for your employees.

Handwashing and Cleaning

While handwashing, cleaning, and sanitizing have always been hallmarks of food service operations, these tasks are more significant than ever before. Make sure that your employees know and follow CDC’s occupational handwashing protocols. 

Establish an abundance of handwashing, hand sanitizing, and cleaning stations around the workplace. Waitstaff should sanitize their hands between every customer interaction. Tables, counters, seats, and serving areas should be sanitized between customers. In the least, high-touch areas should be sanitized once every hour. Also, restaurants and other food service areas must be disinfected nightly. 

You must give your employees enough time to wash or sanitize their hands and surfaces.

What to Do If Your Employees Get Sick

What do you do if one of your workers has been exposed to COVID-19? For one, make sure that your employees go home and/or seek medical care if they develop symptoms of COVID-19. If your employees develop symptoms at work, allow them to go home immediately. Then, take the time to disinfect their workstation. Follow up to ensure that your employee understands what is expected of them.

If an employee experiences symptoms of COVID-19, they should follow all of the CDC’s home isolation guidelines until they are ready and able to return to work. The CDC has published guidelines for ending home isolation on its website.

Employees must quarantine for a minimum of 10 days from the onset of their symptoms. They must also be at least 24 hours fever-free. 

Employees may or may not opt to be tested. Due to the limited availability of tests, the CDC has developed clear cut symptoms-based assessments for self-quarantining. 

What to Do If Your Employees Are Exposed

Any employee that is exposed to coronavirus is expected to quarantine for 14 days. During this time, they should monitor themselves for signs and symptoms. 

Remember, many COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic. This does not mean that they cannot transmit the disease to others. Employees should reach out to their healthcare providers for guidance. 

Now is an excellent time to hire a team of professional COVID-19 cleaning specialists. At Eco Bear, we can help you clean and sanitize your restaurant after an outbreak. Many restaurants must close down temporarily to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. 

Taking the Burden Off Your Employees

Oftentimes, restaurant staff members are tasked with cleaning and sanitizing after an outbreak even though they are not trained in infectious disease mitigation. In doing so, they may be putting their health and the health of their loved ones at risk. 

For this reason, the L.A. Department of Health has advised all food service establishments consider hiring a third-party cleaning service, such as Eco Bear. At Eco Bear, we can help relieve you and your employees of some of your cleaning tasks. This way, you and your employees can focus on serving your customers.

Cleaning and Sanitizing the Workplace

If you’ve had a known case of COVID-19 in your place of business, you are required to take several steps to ensure that your other employees and future customers are not at risk for contracting coronavirus. 

Be Transparent With Your Employees

You are not allowed to release the name of the worker(s) who contracted the disease. (Your employees may be able to decipher this information through the process of elimination.) Talk with the infected employee or refer to previous work records to determine which, if any, of your employees may have been in contact with them when they were infectious. 

Notify your employees of the CDC’s 14-day quarantine requirement for those that have been exposed to the coronavirus. It can be challenging to cope with staff shortages. However, a full-blown outbreak of COVID-19 is likely to have a much more negative impact on your business. 

Provide your employees with information on government-sponsored leave benefits. Workers may be eligible for temporary or extended unemployment benefits through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Have a contingency plan in place to deal with temporary and long-term staff absences. 

Determining If You’re Dealing With an Outbreak

If three or more of your employees test positive for the coronavirus within 14 days, you are required to report the outbreak to the L.A. Department of Public Health. The department can be reached at (888) 397-3993 or (213) 240-7821.

They will assign your restaurant a case manager. The case manager will keep track of the ongoing situation while providing you with insight on how to stop the spread of the coronavirus within your business.

Of course, no restaurant or food truck owner wants to deal with the stigmas and challenges related to an infectious disease outbreak within their establishment. Due to the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, all business owners must establish protocols they can follow in worse-case scenarios.

Start by talking with local infectious disease cleaning experts. Professionals like those at Eco Bear can help you maintain the morale and well-being of your restaurant crew amid the unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What to Do When Guests Do Not Comply With COVID-19 Requirements

In many states, restaurants are required to enforce the CDC’s social distancing requirements. In many cases, businesses may be subject to fines and even loss of licenses if they do no enforce these regulations.

Make sure that your customers are aware of the rules. Highly visible printed signs and markings help customers to understand what is expected of them. You can reinforce in-person communications by sending out newsletters or posting updates on social media.

Use a customer-service oriented education-first approach when reminding customers of the need for community-wide social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If possible, keep complimentary disposable masks on hand for customers who need them. What’s more, do your best to keep soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizing stations well stocked. When all else fails, be prepared to turn down customers who do not comply with the set regulations. While no one wants to lose a potential sale or customer, all business owners must remain steadfast in the effort to stop the spread ofcoronavirus. 

How to Rehire Employees

Did you lay off workers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic? Many restaurants and food trucks were forced to close for months. 

While the Paycheck Protection Program offered temporary aid to some small businesses, it came with the condition that employers rehire or retain a certain percentage of their employees. Whether you want to meet the conditions of the PPP loan forgiveness clause or you’re simply ready to get in the swing of things again, you must take extra precaution when rehiring workers.

Keep in mind that the job descriptions of your workers may have changed a bit. Some employees may be reluctant to return to work. The pandemic has shifted the way most of us live our lives. Try and be open and understanding with your employees. Ensure workers that you are going to take steps to protect their health and safety.

You will need to treat rehires like new employees. Even seasoned employees will need to fill out new I-9 and W-4 forms. 

Remember, a majority of the SBA loan must be used for payroll. Otherwise, the loan may not be deemed forgivable.

With the help of an SBA loan, you may able to temporarily increase the wages of your employees. Even still, increased wages may not be enough incentive to get workers to return. Workers may be reluctant to work because they are already receiving generous payouts from unemployment. It is important to note that they may be at risk of losing their unemployment benefits if they refuse to take back their job.

Wrapping Things Up

We hope this guide proved helpful to restaurant and food truck owners and operators who are looking to stay up to date and in compliance with the CDC’s and their local health department’s latest COVID-19 rules and regulations. 

The food service industry has faced several challenges during the onset and continued spread of the novel coronavirus. Authoritative agencies, including the CDC, have used scientific evidence to develop protocols for protecting food service employees and their customers. These protocols were put in place to ensure that the nation’s dining establishments can continue to safely offer essential goods and services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced unimaginable hardships. At Eco Bear, we are prepared to help restaurant and food truck businesses. Our team of COVID-19 cleaning specialists are available around the clock. If one or more of your employees tests positive or you want to take the steps to properly sanitize your business, give us a call. 

We have experience remediating all sorts of biohazards, including infectious diseases. We will use professional-grade sanitation tools to restore your food service establishment to its original glory. 

Are you eager to serve your customers? Give us a call at (818) 358-4359

A Final Note

In Los Angeles County, the Governor has had to make several difficult decisions when it comes to the operations of indoor dining facilities, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and more. The COVID-19 Restaurant Protocols are designed to help the local government and public health organizations cope with the ongoing and completely fluid situation related to the coronavirus outbreak. 

The county may enter and exit reopening stages in any order. As a restaurant owner or manager, it is your responsibility to stay up to date with the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s latest rules and regulations.