These days, more customers are ordering takeout and delivery than ever before. Not only are these options often more convenient—but with coronavirus concerns still looming, some people still prefer to avoid public settings. And while there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging, restaurants still have a responsibility to take proactive steps that will keep customers safe and keep takeout/delivery food tasting its best.
First, take some time to reassess your menu offerings. Are you offering temperature sensitive items, such as ice cream? If so, then you may want to consider removing these items from your menu—or at least not offering them for takeout or delivery. Time/temperature control safety (TCS) foods require very specific time and/or temperature controls to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause food-borne illness, so this is something to keep in mind as you revise your menu offerings.
You may also want to remove any items from your menu that are especially delicate, as they may become jostled and damaged on the ride to their destination.
Food Safety Practices
More than ever, following your local public health guidelines and food safety best practices is vital. One of the biggest safe food handling practices and procedures is to ensure that all food is cooked to the proper temperature and held at optimal safe temperatures before it leaves the restaurant. This means holding hot foods at a minimum of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, cold foods must be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less until they leave your restaurant. This will minimize the risk of bacteria growth and ensure that the meal tastes as fresh as possible.
In addition to temperature control best practices, this is also a good time to reinforce the importance of personal hygiene among staff members who work with food. This means enforcing frequent hand washing procedures in addition to the use of gloves and masks by kitchen and delivery staff. Employees should be encouraged to stay home if they're not feeling well—and ill employees should be sent home promptly to avoid the spread of illness.
Some other food safety examples to keep in mind:
- Keep raw food separated from other food at all times.
- Follow safe minimum internal temperature guidelines for meat.
- Always measure internal temperature with a meat thermometer.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before using in a dish.
Cleaning and Disinfection
In addition to making sure food is prepped, cooked and stored safely in the time leading up to carry-out/delivery, there are some other cleaning and disinfecting guidelines that restaurant staff should follow. This begins with making sure that any cleaning chemicals used within your restaurant are EPA-approved cleaning chemicals from List N.
Regular cleaning and disinfecting should already be part of your daily routine, but it won't hurt to provide a refresher training course to ensure that all staff members are up-to-date on current guidance. Holding a dedicated training session can be a great way to drive home the point that kitchen cleanliness and disinfection procedures are not to be taken lightly. Consider having all staff that comes directly in contact with food product get ServSafe® certified.
Restaurant kitchens should follow a cleaning schedule that includes both daily, weekly and monthly tasks. Daily tasks may include wiping down grills, ranges and other appliances as well as mopping floors. Weekly tasks – on the other hand, may include sanitizing walk-in freezers and washing vent hoods. Post your cleaning schedule in areas that are clearly visible so employees know what needs to be done and when.
For the most part, takeout orders should follow the same sanitation guidelines as dine-in orders. Takeout orders may require a few additional considerations, though. This includes:
- Keeping takeout orders separated from potential contaminants and customers.
- Offering hand sanitizer for delivery drivers and customers at the point of pick-up.
- Providing sanitizing wipes for delivery bags.
Packaging and Time Management
Choosing the right packaging for your carry-out food can also make a difference when it comes to safety and quality. Ideally, you should keep multiple takeout box sizes on-hand so that you can package food into the smallest possible container for delivery or pick-up. Using the smallest container is one of the best ways to maintain food integrity and temperature.
When bagging takeout meals, make sure employees are trained to place the heaviest containers at the bottom of the bag for easier transport. Meanwhile, packing carryout/delivery orders into bags with handles is one of the best ways to minimize spillage while making transport easier.
Time management is another important thing to keep in mind when offering takeout and delivery services to customers. Because food should never be kept outside the optimal safe temperature range for more than two hours, restaurant owners have a responsibility to consider time/distances for delivery/takeout when accepting orders.
When thinking about this two-hour limit, be sure to factor in the length of time that an order may be sitting before it leaves the restaurant, as well as the amount of time it will take to get to its destination (many restaurants will have a maximum delivery time for this reason). Likewise, you'll also want to factor in the amount of time it may take for a customer to plate the order (if desired) and actually begin eating it after delivery.
Additional Takeout Tips
These days, customers enjoy having as many options as possible when it comes to safely picking up their meals. If you're offering carry-out and/or delivery, consider offering dedicated pickup areas for takeout customers within your restaurant. Ideally, these areas should be located away from the hustle and bustle of the restaurant to give your customers added peace of mind. This is just one more way you can implement a good set of food safety delivery guidelines.
Contactless pickup and delivery options are also becoming popular. For takeout orders, you might consider offering curbside pickup so that customers don't even have to come into the restaurant to pick up their meals. For delivery, consider asking customers if they would prefer a contactless experience; if so, delivery drivers can leave meals directly on a customer's doorstep to minimize interaction.
Last but not least, customers should be provided with guidance when it comes to maintaining food safety and reheating leftovers. You might, for example, include a small paper insert with each carry-out/delivery order that provides information on serving, storing and reheating popular menu items.
Serve Up Quality
There's a lot to keep in mind when it comes to the safe handling and transport of carry-out/delivery orders. With these tips in mind, however, you and your staff can continue to serve up quality while giving your valued customers a little more peace of mind during these times.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2020 and has been updated for appropriate links and current perspective.