Just a few months ago, there wasn’t much thought given to grabbing a food sample at the supermarket, going for seconds at a buffet or making a cup of coffee at the office. You might not have considered how many people touched the sample tray, buffet utensils or coffee maker before you. But COVID-19 has changed that.
With businesses taking extreme sanitation and social distance precautions to reopen without a cure or vaccine, some everyday cherished aspects of society may be excluded as they pose health risks. Aside from physical contact like handshakes, hugs and cheek-kiss greetings, many food and dining practices may not resume once the pandemic subsides.
Office snacks, coffee machines and corporate pantries may be ditched as offices begin to reopen. The seemingly harmless office Nespresso machine is now a health hazard with coworkers pressing the same buttons and drifting by the machine breathing potentially deadly germs onto the surface. Lunch meetings, shared pantries and breakrooms fall into the same bucket.
Some public health officials have warned people not to share food in social settings during the pandemic, but does that mean Sunday brunch buffets, Chinese self-serve and restaurant salad bars could become a thing of the past? Unfortunately, cafeterias and other self-serve style dining options may go extinct (for now), as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that restaurants reopening avoid all self-serve stations.
Communal food is coming under scrutiny as coronavirus continues to spread. The highlight of any kid’s Costco trip or Aunty Anne’s experience will become but a memory as food sampling invites a germ passage from shared platters. Costco has suspended product demonstrations indefinitely at some of its stores around the world, including in the US and China.
Reusable cups and bags may also be a thing of the past, an unfortunate turn for climate change activists, as coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts will no longer fill reusable mugs. Local governments in cities like San Francisco and San Mateo, along with grocery giants Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, have banned reusable bags.
People will need to look for places other than the grocery store hot bars and soup, salad and pizza stations for easy dinners as national retailers and local markets discontinue these self-serve stations, following CDC guidance. Food companies are capable of profound change if they have the will, but if they don’t adapt, they may not succeed long term.