As the fall academic term launches at the nation’s institutions of higher learning, most colleges and universities have implemented certain protocols to keep staff and customers safe while accessing campus dining facilities. Generally, these include individual packaging, social distancing, mask wearing and limited venue occupancy, but at Stanford University, the campus dining program has gone an extra few miles with CleanDining, a series of practices put in place to minimize infection and contamination risk in preparation for the start of its fall quarter on Sept. 14.
Among them are hand washing and temperature check stations outside the dining centers that all students must use before entering.
“There will be three mobile handwash sinks at each dining hall where everybody has to wash their hands before going inside,” explains Daniel Archer, assistant director of food safety for Stanford Dining. The approach was tested over the summer and Archer says students complied in 99.7% of the cases observed, which actually is slightly better than the 98.6% of students who wore a mask before trying to enter a dining facility.
“Hand washing has become second nature to the students,” Archer comments.
In addition to washing their hands, students looking to enter a dining venue will have to go through a temperature check at a mobile temp check station.
“It’s a really quick procedure,” Archer says. “The line is only a couple feet from the kiosk.”
The protocol is that students showing an elevated temperature are asked to wait a few minutes, then retested in case they simply were temporarily overheated from the trip to the dining facility. If they continue to show elevated temperature, however, they are prohibited from entering and directed to the campus health center.
Meanwhile, their food is packaged up and brought out for them.
“We don’t want to deny anyone a meal, but we do need to create a safe environment for students and also for staff, especially because have lot of staff who fall into high risk categories,” says Eric Montell, executive director of R&DE Stanford Dining.
While elevated body temperature is not a definitive sign of COVID infection, it is a red flag, he says. Students who exhibit warning signs such as elevated temperatures are quarantined. During the quarantine, they mobile order food from the dining center menus that is then delivered to them in a safe manner. Other students are also able to mobile order meals, but they have to go to a dining facility to pick it up.
Keeping employees safe
The temperature testing protocol is an extension of the system in place for dining staff, who not only have to go through a temperature check before entering a facility but have already passed an online health check before they leave home that includes a temperature check and asks them a series of questions to determine their state of health.
“At the end the system tells the employee, ‘You’re okay to go to work’ or ‘You can’t go to work today,’” Archer explains. The results of this health check are also sent to managers to let them know which employees are allowed to come in.
The temperature check at the door before entering is an additional precaution to flag anyone who may have been mis-diagnosed in the home health check, Archer says.
“So far we haven’t had any instance of an employee’s temperature being elevated,” he adds, no doubt knocking firmly on wood as he said it…
The employee health checks are part of the comprehensive CleanDining program Stanford developed after examining the science of how COVID spreads.
“We looked at what was happening in Asia where [temperature checking] has been standard,” Montell observes, noting that the campus dining program has been at the forefront of the university’s response to the COVID pandemic, being the first to adopt mandatory face mask wearing, for example.
“We’re really focused on this because dining centers are gathering places where lot of people congregate and where a virus could easily spread,” he notes.
That has led to a series of steps ranging from training of employees not only on procedures to instruction on why they are important by looking at how contagion spreads and how it can be prevented.
Photo: Mahimahi with citrus salsa is a takeout option a Stanford dining centers. There will be no inside seating during the fall term.
Credit: Stanford Dining
The CleanDining program, developed by the R&DE Stanford Dining leadership team, includes numerous detailed policies and procedures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Its manual outlines safety measures for students, including guidelines on entry and circulation in the dining halls, occupancy, health and safety signage, to-go meal pickup, and contact tracing for students. Safety measures for dining staff include guidelines for receiving and deliveries, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, locker room usage, workspace requirements, staff training and contact tracing for workers.
The open-source document is available for download to anyone and will be regularly updated as new scientific understandings come to light about COVID-19 and as new university guidelines and county regulations develop.
“This program is a valuable safety resource for our team who use it to guide their work practices and provides students with the high-quality food they are accustomed to in this new to-go format,” Montell says. “We want to share this program broadly with others in our industry so they can use as needed in developing their own COVID-19 safety policies and procedures.”
As of mid-August, Stanford was planning to limit campus populations by having freshmen and sophomores on campus for the first (fall) and fourth (summer) quarters, with juniors and seniors during the second and third (winter and spring) quarters. That doesn’t include about 900 students who have special circumstances—family issues, no other place to go, etc.—who can stay on campus full time, says Montell.
“We opened four graduate residence buildings on Aug. 1, which means about 75% of graduates can live on campus,” he adds. “Stanford has a huge graduate student population and we anticipate about 5,000 will be on campus. The rest will be undergraduates ranging from the 900 special circumstances students on up to several thousand, depending on conditions this fall.”
Photo: Stanford Dining is looking to add outdoor seating in properly socially distanced patterns so students have another option besides taking their meals back to their rooms.
Credit: Stanford Dining
All that of course impacts the market for campus dining, and Montell is maintaining flexibility.
“The number of students on campus will determine the number of venues open,” he offers. However, plans now call for takeout food only from the dining centers with no indoor seating. Montell says he is looking into opening outdoor spaces where students can eat at properly socially distanced tables and chairs. He admits it’s all a radical mindset change.
All the large dining centers, plus a couple retail locations, remained open this past spring despite most students going home in order to maintain maximum social distancing. One dining center also remained open to serve some 150 students who were on campus over the summer, along with the specialized athletic dining facility that remained operational for the use of athletes—including the football team—who were on campus over the summer to train.
Montell is proud of the fact that he was able to keep his dining team employed over the summer in part by reassigning them to help clean and set up campus housing for the fall, a task traditionally outsourced. The work made up for the lack of summer dining business, which in ordinary times is a busy season with camps and conferences.
He is also helping local businesses by leveraging Stanford’s considerable purchasing clout. Plans call not for reduced procurement, as might be expected given the probable reduction in dining customers, but actually an increase.
“We have significantly increased our purchasing because we want to make sure we have an uninterrupted food supply,” Montell says, noting that disposable packaging is especially a priority given the demand because of the explosion in takeout meals across the foodservice industry. The extra stock is stored either on campus or in vendor partner warehouses.
“We are especially working with local suppliers because the hospitality industry around here has just been destroyed,” Montell adds. “They have amazing products and we can give them business to keep them operating while we get a good price, so it’s a win-win.”