Many patrons have only a fuzzy idea of what to expect when they return to dining establishments, and they are encountering different practices at each establishment. With global COVID-19 cases exceeding 4.5 million including deaths of 306,000, consumers certainly remain concerned about safety. To help standardize safety practices across the country, the CDC released new guidance yesterday for various businesses, including a new one-page flier for restaurant owners.
Last week, media outlets including the Associated Press and New York Times reported that White House executives shelved a more stringent version of these guidelines for being “too prescriptive.” Yesterday’s new language suggests that CDC officials downgraded many of their rules to recommendations. The expressions “if feasible” and “as feasible” appear next to several sections about handwashing and employees wearing cloth masks, and the directives are now softened with words like “encourage,” “promote,” and “intensify.”
Earlier versions suggested, among other things, that restaurants should install sneeze guards at cash registers, or stop displaying food in buffets or salad bars altogether. Some of these deprecated suggestions still appear on other government websites but have not been included in yesterday’s CDC pamphlets.
The guidance arrives just as dine-in service resumptions surpassed 50% of states. There are currently 27 states which have reopened at least some form of sit-down dining service. On Monday, New Hampshire will be the 28th state to reopen. Also on Monday, Florida’s Governor will double the state’s occupancy cap for restaurants from 25% to 50%.
These are CDC’s new recommendations for restaurants, precisely as published yesterday.
The CDC’s short list of 11 guidelines contrasts with McDonald’s 59-page instruction manual for reopening its dining areas. McDonald’s numerous requirements include cleaning restrooms every 30 minutes, sanitizing tables and kiosks after each use, and closing all self-service beverage and condiment bars. “6 pages of watered down guidelines from CDC,” tweeted one user today. “For perspective: It takes 59 pages of guidance to reopen dining rooms at McDonald’s.”
As another example of the extra lengths recommended by chain restaurants, consider these guidelines for Pizza Inn’s new dining buffet.
The FDA has created its own simple guidebook outlining safe practices for food businesses. The FDA also maintains a directory of state-by-state guidelines here. Texas’ restaurant safety bulletin can be viewed here. Federally recognized disinfectants are listed here.