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COVID-19 and College & University Foodservice: Part One - Food Safety

Updated: Jun 15

The World Health Organization recognizes June 7th as World Food Safety Day, intending to bring attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect, and manage foodborne risks. In a joint effort, Ricca Design Studios and Envision Strategies recently hosted roundtable discussions with self-operated dining teams from colleges and universities around the country. Our goals of these sessions were to stay connected, talk about impacts and challenges, and share ideas for both short-term and long-term COVID-related dining solutions. In this three-part series, Phil Landgraf and Kerri Fitzgerald will uncover the effects that COVID-19 is having on food, guest, and employee safety, and highlight strategies being implemented to safely serve campus populations.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as just closing the salad bar! Dining operators are facing major challenges in their operations every hour. Each day brings new hurdles, including; numerous re-opening scenarios and everyday fluctuations in planning by institutions, closed dining halls and communal gathering spaces, lost revenue due to reduced populations and canceled catering events, daily updates to government policies, issues with procurement, and the stress of the future unknowns, just to name a few. The good news is that college and university leaders are reacting nimbly and thinking creatively! Since the top priority on everyone’s mind is the health and safety of students and dining staff, here are some suggestions to help ensure food safety at your operation.



1. Limit Touchpoints

Impact: some will be temporary, but may be one of the most important short-term solutions

Considerations: minimize or eliminate contact on commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs, card swipes, silverware and condiments, and beverage dispensers; remove trays; convert all front-of-house dining operations that were previously self-service to full-service.

2. Reduce Menu Offerings

Impact: likely temporary

Considerations: simplify the menu while maintaining both food quality and meal value. Guests want to feel that they are still getting their money’s worth even though there is less of a selection, and operators want to minimize purchasing, labor, and waste. It is also important to be in tune with guests’ personal needs. For example, Mount Holyoke College has pared down their overall offerings while continuing to serve Kosher and Halal meals for students with religious dietary requirements.


3. Increase Grab & Go Production

Impact: likely temporary

Considerations: prep and package menu items that are typically self-service, such as salads, soups, and sandwiches. This allows for larger batch production with reduced labor. Try to pre-package only the menu items that hold or “travel” well. Consider producing meal kits that students can prepare in kitchenettes or re-heat in microwaves – this has been a summer success at Rhode Island School of Design.

4. Apply central commissary or ghost kitchen operating models

Impact: both temporary and trending

Considerations: focus on bulk production requiring minimal staff, and creatively re-purpose existing foodservice operations that are not currently in use, such as catering kitchens and retail venues. This also helps to limit staff contact with guests.

5. Implement Food Lockers

Impact: trending

Considerations: pair mobile ordering apps with the latest technology available for take-out and pick-up. Even before COVID, food lockers were replacing pick-up windows and open shelving. Many students now expect convenience and frictionless service, and operators want to ensure order accuracy, track timely pick-up, and hold food safely. Food lockers can be set up outside of venues to reduce guest density within the venue and can also be placed in satellite locations around campus for ease of access by guests.

6. Embrace Robotics

Impact: trending and future

Considerations: employ robots for food prep and delivery. With budget cuts and decreased attendance, labor shortages are undoubtedly becoming a concern on many campuses. Some schools such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison are finding that the return on investment for utilizing robots is an option worth considering.

We would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to reach out, reconnect, and tell us how your team has responded to COVID challenges. And don’t forget to tune into Soup to Nuts the next two weeks for follow-up topics on Guest Safety and Employee Safety! #riccadesignstudios #creatingwhatsnext


Blog contributions by Principals Phillip Landgraf and Kerri Fitzgerald


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