Mike Peacock: All right. Welcome back to Cosmic Soup. Appreciate you all taking the time to hang out with us today because we have a very important topic to discuss, one that greatly impacts communities and health centers that provide services to older adults. It’s all over the news and, no matter where you go or who you talk to, it seems that there’s one thing on everyone’s mind right now, the Coronavirus.
When it comes to keeping residents safe, whether it’s through standard cleanliness practices or preventing the spread of viruses, the dining service team is one of your star players, and so I’ve asked Chef Shawn Boling to join me today to talk about his experience in dealing with this topic and to share some tips and tricks that he’s learned and used to help the kitchen and dining staff to do their best to help communities in times like these. While Shawn’s experience may be scary or hard to hear about, I promise we’re not going to hit you with all the doom and gloom. There are some really good, positive takeaways in all this.
Shawn, thanks for talking with us today. It’s an important topic, for sure.
Shawn Boling: Oh, you bet. Glad to be here. Yeah, definitely the doom and gloom. No need to panic at all. Totally doable and we’re going to get down to some of the steps that we can take to make it a little easier for everybody in dining.
Mike: I guess, first off then, let’s just talk about it. You literally had an experience not too long ago where you were at a community—
Mike: –and there was a viral outbreak.
Mike: They basically quarantined the community. Tell us about that. When did it happen? What was going on?
Shawn: Yeah. It was a few years ago and norovirus came through the community. Pretty much what they did was, we called it – we didn’t really call it a quarantine. It was just more of all dining services went to room service.
The first thing is, it’s extremely doable in that sense. It’s not monumental like a lot of folks might thing. What we did is we rallied around, got with the executive director, and actually had a meeting with the executive director and the director of nursing.
The first thing they did is come down to the kitchen. We got all of our culinary department together, the front of the house, back of the house, and we were just like, what is this going to look like? What are the steps we need to take to have everything—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—all meals sent to the rooms as a room service?
Then the director of nursing went through steps. Most of it was pretty basic but, again, washing your hands.
They had a disinfectant that the nurses were using up in their skilled area in memory care, and so we used some sanitary solutions that they had and we sprayed the kitchen down three times a day. Sometimes, I think it even went to four and five times a day if we had the chance to do it. That’s where the director of nursing comes in where she can help guide with that. We had to glove up.
It went three and a half weeks and there are a lot of interesting things we found out about our kitchen when you do that – to-go orders.
Shawn: We got to know the residents. I was helping deliver food. Yeah.
Mike: Was this a voluntary thing, was this a precautionary measure, or was this something you were asked to do?
Shawn: Yeah, this was definitely something we were asked to do. First off, when a community gets a virus, a pretty hefty one, not just one or two people but it’s definitely affecting the community, I don’t like to use the word quarantine. Quarantine indicates that you can’t leave and it’s just everybody running around full gear like they’re walking on Mars.
It is definitely a time where we ask the residents, “Please don’t leave your rooms. Don’t go into common areas. Do not have family members over until we’re done with the outbreak.” If folks did leave the community, we had asked them to not return. Say they were going to go to a family member’s to ride it out. Then they would go there.
Yeah, it was long-term. The residents, they don’t want to get sick either. Nobody does. All you have to do is just mention to them this is the road we like to go with these certain steps, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit. They made the best of it.
Mike: In effect, there were steps that were required to be taken. One of the things that you did then was you implemented you close a dining room.
Mike: You went to a full room service model.
Shawn: Yeah, we put out. Depending on what the community has for communication, we put it over the secured TV that we had. We had sent out into all the mailboxes. The executive director printed out and stuffed it in the mailboxes the steps of staying in. We’re closing all venues. There are no lifestyle activities, no bingo and things like that. It doesn’t take long to get the message out that we’ve got a pretty serious event going on.
Shawn: Everybody needs to just follow the rules that we’re doing to keep everybody safe.
Mike: Got it. Then in the event that something like that does happen and, obviously, we’re talking about something that did happen, the majority of people out there won’t even deal with it anywhere near this level.
Mike: But let’s just say that something does get implemented. What’re the first steps that the culinary department would take?
Shawn: Yeah, great question. I called my team together because we had met with the director of nursing. The first thing out of the shoot is, let them know that we are going to go to all means sent to rooms and all dining venues are closed down. Anybody not feeling well needs to go home immediately.
Mike: You’re talking about employees?
Shawn: Employees, yes.
Shawn: Front of the house, back of the house, all dining service. Then we needed – I handed out a bullet list, I guess, of the process that we were going to have to deliver the food. Like I said, with the disinfecting, get ready to start scrubbing down the kitchen first thing in the morning. About every two and a half, three hours, we’d go through all the stainless steel tables. We’re going to order a ton of gloves and a ton of paper products. You’re going to have to go through immediately, look at your to-go program, and start ordering a bunch of hot cups, cold cups, if you don’t have those, with lids. Everything has to be in a to-go container.
Mike: Got it.
Shawn: Then plastic bags. Then we had a team that would go deliver it as well.
Mike: Was this different than the regular? Say your services, did they take part in this at all?
Shawn: Yeah, it was all hands on deck.
Shawn: The community was a couple of hundred folks and three meals a day. That takes a lot of delivery. And if you have multiple floors as well, elevators, and things like that, it’s going to take time to go up to the 15th floor and back down. We divided it up by floors. I had, actually, directors helping from other departments.
Mike: Oh, that’s cool.
Shawn: Yeah. Yeah-yeah-yeah, so it’s a big task. But once it gets going, it starts to flow. Definitely, you have to get your to-go program up and going immediately. The financial, you’re going to drop thousands of dollars if you’re going a couple of weeks on to-go products.
Shawn: Because paper and plastic is so expensive.
Mike: Sure. Then what happens to the menu? Did you work off modified menus? Did you have to alter what you could offer to people during that timeframe?
Shawn: Yes. Yeah, we stayed pretty close. It really depends on how tight your team is and how good your culinary team, the skill level. We stayed pretty close to the menu, but some things did have to drop off.
Let’s say you’re going to offer two or three entre choices. You’d offer one and we just said, “Okay, tonight is going to be lasagna or cordon bleu.”
We scaled it down somewhat, for sure. Not everything on that menu was prepared to be delivered in mass quantities either for to-go.
Shawn: We were kind of picky on what we chose but, all in all, at the end of the three weeks, the residents were happy. Everybody got fed. Yeah, it’s not as scary. No need to panic.
Mike: Yeah, I think that human nature is to kind of take the worst-case scenario and make it be a thing.
Mike: It’s good to be prepared, though.
Mike: And the fact that you’ve been through this.
Shawn: Well, just real quick. It does bond you with the residents. The culinary team bonded with each other more than I’ve ever seen.
Shawn: When you think about it, I’m running down the hall with dishwashers and busboys. I don’t usually have time to interact with all your teammates. But when something like that goes down, you’re in the hunt. You’re in the trenches with them. I knew every resident and where they lived after three weeks.
Shawn: It was really cool.
Mike: Right. Yeah, that’s awesome.
Mike: You upped your to-go disposables, if you will.
Shawn: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Mike: What other kinds of products did you find yourself having to bring in extra of due to the dining services being closed down, or at least the dining rooms being closed down?
Shawn: Mm-hmm. Honestly, anything and everything paper, plastic. It’s amazing when you’re doing a few hundred meals a day and you’re only doing maybe 15 or 20 room service and then, all of a sudden, it’s hundreds of room service.
Shawn: It really adds up and you have to portion it into the to-go containers. It’s almost like a hotel dish-up. You have to lay it all out and put all the proteins in. You can’t do them all at once because then they get cold.
Shawn: We go floor-by-floor. The residents knew, as part of that training when you’re stuffing the mailboxes with the procedures that are going to happen for your community with food, the mealtimes aren’t going to be everybody fed at the same time. Obviously, we’ve got a crisis, but we will get to you within a timeframe. We’d just go floor-by-floor-by-floor and I believe we pretty much fed everybody within about 40 minutes on all 15 floors. That’s where you get everybody together, all hands on deck. The executive director was taking dinners up to floors. We just put them on a cart and just went for it, floor-by-floor-by-floor. Yeah.
Mike: [Laughter] Some restaurants and communities struggle to get all their diners fed within 40 minutes anyway. [Laughter]
Shawn: Yeah, right?
Mike: Regardless of kind of a situation.
Shawn: Yeah, make it a competition. I’d split them up into teams and whoever could get their floor done, you know, sections.
Shawn: A little something-something. Got to be positive.
Shawn: Definitely, the key is everybody stays positive. The captain of the ship doesn’t freak out.
Shawn: We’re good. We’re cool. Because if you get the residents all nervous then—
Shawn: They’re like, “I’m not going to eat? What’s going on?” Then it really—
Mike: For sure.
Shawn: [Laughter] –could take a bad turn.
Mike: Yeah and assume that you also had to probably up your chemical purchases and things like that.
Shawn: Mm-hmm. Yeah, we were going through a lot of bleach and a lot of sanitizer.
Mike: Did you use the same sanitizers or was there a specific one you switched to specifically that was really more dedicated towards this?
Shawn: Yeah. Being a chef, I’m not in the medical field and by any means do I know anything about the best sanitizing solution for viruses. That’s where your director comes in and your director of nursing.
Shawn: Everybody, all folks at the level of culinary director, chef, GM, whatever title you have, the minute something breaks out like that, that’s when you have your upper-level meeting and you just start dialing in. I know we used a solution. I honestly don’t remember what it was. It could have been something that we could have purchased on our own but let the professionals in the healthcare area decide exactly what we’re going to disinfect with.
Mike: Got it.
Mike: Then did you put people on a specific timed cleaning regimen?
Shawn: Oh, yeah. Mm-hmm.
Mike: I assume it wasn’t something like, just do it when you can.
Shawn: No! No-no-no.
Mike: It was like, you need to do it at this interval.
Mike: How did you break that down?
Shawn: Well, we did a training with the stewards, the dishwashers in the morning and the folks that came in first thing, so before anybody turned any equipment on, the whole place got wiped down: the lockers, the kitchen floors, the counters. Everything that we could get our hands on, we wiped down. Then we started production.
Once breakfast was over, did it again because everybody was coming from up on the other levels into the residents. When they come back down into the kitchen, they may be contaminated and touch a counter or a refrigerator door. When service was done, boom, again everything gets sanitized.
First thing in the morning, after every meal, and then before they went home, they sanitized.
Mike: How were deliveries of food affected, like your Sysco or FSA or whoever it came. Did that affect them at all?
Shawn: No, it didn’t because we were just one community with the norovirus. But, I’m looking at this now. Already, if you go to Costco, there’s no water on the shelves. I’ve been there just earlier today. Everybody is taking bread and water. I’m not sure about that.
Shawn: It’s like, you all get something that’s shelf-stable: rice, cans of beans. [Laughter]
Mike: Okay. Sure.
Shawn: Anyway, I’m kind of going off a sidetrack there.
Shawn: There is a community that I know of in California actually right now that put an order in through Sysco for two pallets of water and they didn’t have any.
Shawn: Now, don’t panic. They said that it’ll be there the next day, but I guess if it was myself, the faster you can get your paper, you know, your water, paper, plastic, and stuff in, if this is widespread through the city or the county. It’s pretty much early bird gets the worm, so get your order in.
Shawn: I really don’t know what would happen if 60% of the communities went on this program all at once. I’m sure it would overwhelm the food providers. But like I said, just get on it immediately so that you’re not the one stuck with Sysco saying or FSA that they don’t have the product you need.
Mike: Okay. But as far as how you handled the deliveries coming in, there is no change to that mechanism?
Shawn: No, it’s just, put things away immediately. Don’t let them sit around.
Mike: Yeah. As far as storage goes, walk-in, dry stock, freezers, like that, that all remained the same as well?
Shawn: That all, yeah. Yeah, that all, but those are the things, the handles on the doors and things like that, those are what would get sanitized three, four times a day, five times a day.
Shawn: Anything that you would grab gets sanitized. You push a bathroom door in your kitchen, the doors got sanitized, phones, everything.
Mike: Okay. In addition to having everybody kind of wearing gloves, were masks of any kind implemented?
Shawn: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah-yeah-yeah. Every time that you left the kitchen or every time you came back. Well, you had to leave the kitchen with gloves on. When you came back in, you threw the gloves away and you washed your hands. You put gloves on and continued. You wouldn’t go to a resident’s room with gloves on and come back with the same gloves on.
Shawn: Because the residents, you know, they’re grabbing door handles. There are just germs everywhere once you leave that kitchen.
Shawn: Then, yeah, you get rid of the gloves. We even had aprons that we put on, the full aprons that hang around the neck and, after each service, we took those and threw them in the laundry and got fresh ones for breakfast, fresh ones for lunch, fresh ones just in case you brushed up against whatever.
Shawn: That’s probably an extreme, but hey.
Mike: Sure. On a scale of one to ten, then, it doesn’t seem like it’s really that hard but how would you say? How hard is it to continue food service while the dining venues are closed and all service is based off delivery?
Shawn: Good question. I think, in the beginning – there are kind of two sets of numbers here. In the beginning, it’s probably going to be about a seven or an eight just depending on how your to-go program was set up originally. Some places have a wonderful program. They do a lot of to-go, so they’re already ahead of the game. That might be even a five or a six. But I think, on average, it’s probably going to be a seven or an eight, but that’s only going to last a few days. You’re going to learn how to get to the rooms. You’re going to learn how to do it and then it instantly just becomes so repetitive that, within a few days, you’re probably a five or six.
Shawn: Yeah, it’s more just kind of annoying than anything. It’s like, okay, we’ve got all this paper. Dish up is different. Serving is different, obviously. It really is just a mind change. Once you’ve accepted that, okay, we’re literally going to feed 600 meals today total in to-go containers, you’ve got to wrap your head around that.
Mike: Sure. Obviously, every community has a different layout, a different volume. Some are five floors. Some are one floor.
Mike: Some have 30 residents. Some have 300 residents.
Mike: Everything is going to be contingent upon the kind of community that you’re in.
Mike: Ultimately, the processes can be the same. How did your staff level become affected by that? Did you find yourself beefing up the schedules to accommodate this?
Shawn: Yeah. The folks, some people put some long days in. We had a few folks go down; they got sick. That’s where the executive director can really rally the teams because you’ve got engineering folks, housekeeping folks, maintenance folks that can all jump in, put a mask on, and have a cart of food and go deliver it.
Yeah, when you have that first meeting when the outbreak hits and when you’re meeting with your crew for the first time, that’s where you say, “Hey, guys. There may be some long days. We might go a week and a half without a day off. Hang in there. But if you feel sick, you have got to stay home.”
Shawn: “Don’t be a trooper. This is not the time to be a hero.”
Shawn: Yeah and the residents know it as well. In fact, at the very end, the residents called a staff meeting, if you will, in one of the banquet rooms. They gave us a standing ovation. Clapped for all the crew, the nurses that put all the time in. They wanted to actually take us out for dinner, but that didn’t quite happen.
Mike: That’s super awesome, though.
Shawn: Yeah. They were very appreciative because they know how hard it is to do that.
Mike: Yeah. Of course, every state has different regulations on labor laws and what you’re allowed to do with calling people in, but I guess, at the end of the day, if you find yourself in a position where this could be a possibility then you would hope that your crew can understand the importance of making sure all these procedures are followed.
Shawn: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Mike: Everybody kind of kicks in that little bit of extra in.
Mike: It’ll come back to them in some other way, shape, or form.
Shawn: Well, yeah. Yeah and that’s the thing is that if you’ve got a really good kitchen and you’re respectful to your employees, they’re going to come together. That’s what I was saying that bonding thing, earlier in our podcast, was kind of cool because we bonded in a way we had never bonded before. Everybody rallied up, stepped up. Yeah, it was really, really cool.
Mike: Yeah. Clearly, that’s an example of an extreme situation where this happens. Let’s talk about preventative then. Obviously, the coronavirus is out there. It’s still being determined on how prevalent it really is going to be. We don’t really know what the risk factors are.
Let’s just say, play it safe, what can we be doing right now in the communities to prevent this as much as we possibly can? What steps can we take to kind of be prepared for this?
Shawn: It’s going to sound repetitive. Honestly, everybody, don’t freak out. You’re going to be fine.
Mike: Okay. Step one.
Shawn: Step one. Call out if you’re not feeling good or you feel like the symptoms, you know, whatever those are. Wash your hands. Somebody said, wash your hands like you’ve just chopped up five pounds of jalapenos and you’ve got to change your contacts out.
Shawn: Make sure. If in doubt, just keep washing your hands. If you didn’t wash your hands 25 times that day, you need to do it more.
Mike: Right. Would you recommend that communities kind of proactively maybe increase their orders for things like—I don’t know—water or shelf-stable products or things like that?
Shawn: You know I really wouldn’t at this time because I think it just creates more of a panic.
Shawn: I think a good thing to always have is, I would sit down and figure out, if you had to go to full delivery service, all meals are in to-go, how much would you need to order and make a list. What would that look like?
For instance, I would look at my menu and go, I need clamshells, they call them. If tomorrow I have to do this, how many cases would I need? Do I even have to-go cold cups?
Shawn: A lot of places don’t. Okay, so what does that look like? How many are in a case? Then you can make your list, your order list. You’re not going to order it but you’re going to do the legwork to figure out exactly what you need, how much you need, and have that on the runway. Then if it breaks out, guess what, you just open your door and pull that paper out and just order instantly.
Mike: Just go, yeah.
Shawn: Yeah because there are a lot of paper products and plastic out there. It can be kind of overwhelming if you don’t have any kind of to-go setup. You have to do a little research, so it can take some time to get all of the to-go products you need. It can take hours or maybe even a day to get with your rep and see exactly what they have out there that fits what you need. That could be done immediately and should be done. Everybody should have that ready to go.
Mike: Cool. Well, I think that those are some really good practices. Like you said earlier, we’re approaching this from a culinary standpoint, not a medical standpoint. We’re not healthcare professionals or doctors. We’re not partners with the CDC or anything.
Mike: I think that a lot of this stuff, I don’t want to say it’s common sense, but it’s things that you already might have some of the tools available to use. You’re just going to be using them more frequently and you need to come up with a system that you can put in place that’s trackable so that you can make sure that the accountability is there.
Mike: So that these things are actually getting done. It’s not rocket science. It’s just going to require an extra level of detail and intention, especially by the leadership. As you mentioned earlier, all departments are probably going to be involved regardless of if they are food service experts or anything.
Mike: It’s going to be teamwork making the dream work, right?
Shawn: Yeah. Well, you know what I would do, too, actually, as we’re talking about this? Obviously, this is just sprung on everybody nationwide.
Shawn: I would, right now, go and get your ducks in a row. Do all the things that we’ve been saying on this podcast. Meet with the residents because right now if your community gets hit, you can’t have all the residents meet together because that’s crazy. You’ve already got the outbreak. You don’t want them in a room together.
Shawn: Right now, when no one is sick, you can have that meeting and say, “Hey, look. If something goes down in our community, here’s what we’re going to do. The chef is going to be doing this. Here’s how we’re going to deliver the food.” Then they know already what to expect: a little delay in their meals. Maybe they don’t have a big menu. You can explain all of this and it calms their fears because they know you’re prepared and you’re ready. Then it’s kind of a two-thing. You don’t have to try and communicate with all these residents in a fashion that you can’t get them all together because it’s already too late. They’re already sick.
Mike: Have the conversation ahead of time.
Shawn: Oh, yeah. I was an executive director, within 48 hours I would have everything ready to go. What is your emergency system for all these meals? I would call an immediate resident meeting and just let them know right now, “Here’s what’s going to happen if this goes down in our community.”
Mike: Yeah, because no matter what the scenario is, people still have to be fed.
Shawn: Oh, yeah.
Mike: That’s just the reality of it. I don’t see it being a case where you can have caterers coming in from the outside if a place is really under tighter control at that point.
Shawn: Well, yeah. I used to do catering and that will lock up in ten seconds. There will be no one. No one is going to be—
Shawn: Plus, it’s food that’s not trustworthy.
Shawn: You don’t know who handled that food.
Mike: Right. Whereas, if you’re getting your own deliveries by your own purveyors, this stuff is all still sealed up.
Shawn: It’s all in-house. Yeah.
Mike: Sealed up, in packages, things like that.
Mike: Your own people who are already following the steps are the ones handling the food.
Shawn: Right. If you order, if you start to panic and start ordering food from restaurants and catering companies, you don’t know if Jack is coming to deliver your food who is sick but needs a pay – he doesn’t want to stay home and not get paid, so he’s going to work anyway.
Shawn: You know.
Shawn: Just way more control in-house.
Mike: Good food for thought there – no pun intended. Ha-ha. Another Shawn joke.
Shawn: Hey, I’ll gobble up that idea.
Mike: Bing! Nice. The moral of the story is, and I’m sure you all are out there doing this already, but—
Shawn: Wait. Wait. Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa, the morsel of the story.
Mike: The morsel of the story. Wah-wah.
Shawn: I’m sorry. I had to go there. I had to go there.
Mike: Shawn even just out-Shawned himself right there.
Shawn: I know. Well, it was just eating me alive.
Mike: Oh, okay.
Mike: We’re going to stop now.
Mike: For all you all out there that already have a battle plan in place, you’re rock stars. You’re doing it right. For those of you that don’t, I would really just suggest strongly, and I’m sure Shawn agrees, get that plan going.
Mike: Have the conversations. Talk to your staff. Talk to your residents. Talk to your administration if you’ve got multiple outlets for your company. Make sure that all of your company has got the same plan in effect. Do whatever you can to make sure that the communication is happening because that’s really the key is the communication.
Shawn: Mm-hmm. Yeah, be proactive.
Mike: Yeah, you need to understand and your people need to understand what has to happen. Shawn, any final thoughts?
Shawn: Yeah. You could even have a mock drill. I think that would be really beneficial. You don’t need to announce it but, I think, internally, you say, “Okay, let’s try and deliver two a fake room, ten meals. What’s that look like? What are we doing?”
Shawn: Just be prepared. Yeah.
Shawn: No, don’t freak out. It’ll be just fine. We’re going to make it.
Mike: Awesome. Hey, Shawn, thank you for doing this today. I know this was kind of short notice for us, but we felt it was important and Cynthia felt it was important to cover. I’m glad that we did.
Shawn: Oh, yeah.
Mike: I appreciate you sharing your experience with us and your insight. Trust me, folks. Shawn has tons of experience. This guy knows what he’s talking about. He’s out there to help you.
Thank you, all, for listening and I know this is kind of a scary topic, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have more questions for Shawn, please send us an email, [email protected], and we’ll make sure to address those concerns ASAP.
If you want really detailed information about the current stats on the coronavirus, check out the CDC’s website. That’s cdc.gov. Thanks again for stopping by. Be safe and we’ll talk to you next time on Cosmic Soup.