How Sodexo is ensuring food safety as the COVID-19 crisis continues

FSD got a glimpse into what the foodservice company is doing to shore up diner and staff safety, and what might lie ahead.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Despite the operational challenges inherent in an ongoing pandemic, Sodexo remains “cautiously optimistic” about the future, says Brigette Philpot, a vice president of environment, health and safety for the foodservice company.

As restrictions are starting to ease in some areas of the country, Sodexo is turning its attention to some new areas of focus while doubling down on the guidelines it had in place prior to COVID-19, Philpot says: “What we are going to want to be able to do is make sure that we are visible in our accounts as it relates to cleaning and disinfecting, that we can put our clients at ease, that the food that we serve is safe, and obviously for our own employees, we’re going to want to emphasize [our existing training programs] but also all of the things that they all need to be mindful of in this new environment and in this new normal.”

Read on to see how Sodexo has adapted its approach to food safety during these uncharted times, as discussed during a recent webinar with the editors of FoodService Director.

Updating guidelines

The company is practicing social distancing, has discontinued all self-serve areas and has upped sanitizing efforts, Philpot says. In addition, it’s implemented more rules for takeout food, such as those around labeling and handling instructions for proper reheating. Food temperatures are being monitored and confirmed prior to it leaving Sodexo facilities, both by verifying the temperature of equipment and of the food itself, she says. And the company has developed standard operating procedures around delivering food to folks who are isolated or in quarantine.

Ensuring compliance

The vendors from which Sodexo procures food “have taken some steps to ensure product wholesomeness,” Philpot says, noting that the company itself is following existing safety requirements when it comes to food handling and prep. Some extra steps it’s enacted: Delivery workers are being temperature-screened before deliveries will be accepted, and staff are disinfecting high-touch surfaces even more often. In addition, individual operators are able to use an anti-microbial agent to clean fruits and vegetables on top of proper washing protocols.

Shifting gears

There’s a greater focus on prepared foods, she says, as well as an increase in menu items that are individually wrapped. And what Sodexo is serving still varies between segments: “Obviously, there are menus that we have to follow in schools, which may look a little different than it does [with] seniors,” Philpot says, noting that what they can offer has been dependent on what’s currently available in the supply chain.

Working on wellness

In recent weeks, the company has “particularly emphasized employee health,” Philpot says, “meaning don’t come to work if you’re sick, or if you’re at work and feeling unwell, to let us know and to then go home.”

In addition, it’s reinforced the importance of hand-washing. “Recall this is not a foodborne illness, so this is not something we have to worry about as it related to food,” she says. “We have to worry about the preparation and the surfaces and the touching and the people around it.”

Applying foresight

So what lies ahead? More takeout, a likely increase in home meal deliveries and a shorter supply chain leading to greater consumption of domestic products, Philpot says. In foodservice venues themselves, employees and diners can expect greater social distancing, the “complete elimination” or cutting down of self-serve stations, limited menu items and more hand sanitizer on hand.

That said, a complete picture is tough to conjure. “It’s difficult to gauge exactly what will happen in the aftermath of COVID-19 as it relates to foodservice,” she says. “I know we hear a lot of talk regarding getting back to normal, but the truth is, I don’t know there will be a return to the past as we knew it.”

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