Guidelines and Considerations for Reopening Camp Food Services Amid COVID-19

Kimberly Whiteside Truitt
December 2020
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COVID-19 has brought many changes to our camps. As we look forward to the 2021 camp season, there are many new regulations required for reopening and maintaining food service operations. To provide a safe environment for our campers and staff to look forward to, consider these compiled guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA), and ServSafe/National Restaurant Association.

Preparation for Reopening Your Food Service

1. Prepare Your Facility

Your facilities have likely remained vacant and equipment unused for some months. Unfortunately, system breakdowns can occur from this. Systems to evaluate and preparation measures follow.

Overall Evaluation

  • First, check ventilation systems, air ducts, and vents in the facility to ensure they are clean, free of mold, and operating properly.
  • Check for proper function of water faucets and drinking fountains. Ill-functioning water systems are a risk for disease.
  • Increased outdoor air circulation decreases COVID-19 risk. Use of fans can be helpful, but do not open windows and doors if they pose a safety risk to campers.
  • Examine gas services, electrical, lighting, ventilation, hood systems for fire prevention, garbage areas, and toilet facilities to be sure all are functional.
  • Restrooms, waiting areas, and all other areas need to be properly cleaned, stocked, sanitized, and disinfected.
  • Ensure there is no pest infestation and that all pest control measures are working.

Water, Plumbing, and Ice

Check to be certain that:

  • Potable water is available throughout the facility.
  • Water and sewage lines are working.
  • There is hot and cold water.
  • All water lines are flushed, including equipment water lines and connections, according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Ice machines and bins are cleaned and sanitized.
  • Handwashing sinks are working properly and can reach 100⁰F minimum.

Food Temperature Control

  • Be certain that coolers, freezers, and hot and cold holding units are working properly.
  • Clean and sanitize coolers, freezers, and hot and cold holding units.
  • Use accurately calibrated thermometers to check equipment and product temperatures to ensure food safety / hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) plans are followed.

Product Inspection, Rotation

  • Check food for spoilage, damage, expiration, or evidence of tampering or pest activity, and dispose if needed.
  • Label and organize with receiving date and rotate to use older products first.
  • Properly store all food, packaging, and chemicals to protect from cross contamination.
  • Contact suppliers in the supply chain to ensure scheduled deliveries will be able to be fulfilled.

Commercial Dishwashing Equipment

  • Clean and equip your three-compartment sink with detergent and sanitizer.
  • Ensure your commercial dishwasher is clean, functioning, and equipped with detergent and sanitizer (single-temperature machine, 165°F) or reaches 180°F rinse (high temperature).
  • Have sanitizer test strips available and confirm the test strips appropriate for the sanitizer being used.

2. Establish Employee Health/Screening Policies

  • Have a procedure in place for monitoring employee health and personal hygiene practices.
  • Ensure you are following CDC guidance and practices for employee health checks/screenings, which include:
    • Prescreen by assessing symptoms and taking temperature.
    • Ask workers to report any safety and health concerns.
    • Encourage employees to stay home if sick.
    • Send sick workers home immediately. Clean and disinfect their workstations and consider others with close contact exposed. Follow CDC guidelines.
  • Check CDC and local regulatory/health authority guidance for employees returning to work (i.e., quarantine regulations).
  • Require your employees to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or cloth face coverings over their nose and mouth to prevent spread of the virus. Be consistent on your policy for and maintain an adequate supply of PPE.
  • Suggest other means of transportation to employees who commute by ride sharing or public transportation, or allow them to change shifts to times with fewer commuters. This will lessen contact with others, as well as the possibility of contracting COVID-19.

3. Train Employees

Staff safety training including new COVID-19 regulations must include all employees. This may be done via online sources or in person provided that social distancing is maintained. Staff training should include the following procedures.

Handwashing Stations

Train and remind employees of proper hand hygiene practices:

  • “Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds” (CDC, 2020). Rinse.
  • Handwashing should be done by all employees:
    • when entering the facility from outside
    • after removing gloves
    • after touching their eyes, nose, or mouth
    • after smoking or going to the bathroom
    • after touching a contaminated surface
    • before eating
    • after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Keep handwashing sinks accessible and fully stocked with soap, paper towels, hand wash sign, and trash cans.
  • Place paper towels and trash receptacles in restrooms next to the doors so they can be opened and closed without touching the handles.

Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing Food Contact and Nonfood Contact Surfaces

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently handled using EPA-approved disinfectants that have label claims against the coronavirus as frequently as possible and as often as food safety regulations require. Examples are worktables, door handles, sink handles, and bathroom stalls. Allow the disinfectant to stay on the surface for the manufacturer-recommended time, but ensure product residue is not left on surfaces to avoid allergic reactions or chemical ingestion.
  • Food contact surface and food preparation surfaces should be washed, rinsed, and sanitized using an EPA-approved sanitizer for food contact surfaces.
  • For blood or bodily fluid cleanup or deep cleaning due to possible SARS-CoV-2 contamination, wash, rinse, and disinfect per disinfectant label instructions. Sanitize using a food-contact surface sanitizer.
  • Schedule a routine cleaning and disinfection. Be certain cleaning agents and disinfectants are stored away from foods and guests in proper storage areas. Ensure you are stocked with cleaners and disinfectants for ongoing cleaning and disinfection needs.
  • Gloves should always be used during garbage bag removal and trash disposal.
  • Wash hands after removing gloves and after handling dirty dishes and other used food service objects.
  • If possible, offer single-use disposable items such as plates, cups, bowls, and utensils.
  • If disposables cannot be used, ensure dinnerware and flatware are washed with dish detergent and hot water.
  • Be certain restrooms are cleaned and disinfected more frequently than typical.
  • Place hand sanitizers (minimum 60 percent alcohol) in various locations to promote hand hygiene in addition to handwashing.

4. Determine and Communicate Layouts and Procedures

A. Dining Area Inform guests of these dining policies on the camp website and/or posted signs:

  • Table seating must ensure that all guests sit a minimum of six feet apart. Mark tables and chairs that are not to be used.
  • Seating capacity must be restricted to accommodate social distancing.
  • Discourage crowded waiting areas by planning separate:
  • Meal times (with smaller numbers of campers)
  • Arrival times
  • Entrances 
  • Eating areas  
  • Offer outdoor seating if possible.
  • Offer staggered dining times to limit number of campers and to accommodate social distancing in the dining hall.
  • Discourage campers from sharing items such as food, drinks, and disposable utensils, etc.
  • Remove high-touch self-service containers and items requiring frequent hand contact, such as ketchup bottles, salt/pepper shakers, and other condiments.
  • Supply single-serving condiments and touchless trash cans.
  • Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations. Safer serving styles include a socially distanced serving line with smaller numbers of guests or seating guests and serving them at the table.
  • Restrict outside food and beverage containers from being brought in by campers and staff to avoid cross contamination.

B. Concession Stand Operations

  • Consider offering concession stand operations at staggered times, with staff assisting campers with social distancing in lines. Plan for employees to work six feet apart.
  • To allow touchless payment options, consider offering a prepurchased concession plan with registration, perhaps as part of the camper fee. This plan could, for example, allow for a $5 concession purchase per day, per camper. Menu prices would need to be basic, such as $2 for all drinks, $1 for candy items or chips, simplifying the process for all while still allowing a concessions experience.
  • Have concession employees place food and drink items on the counter, asking the camper to wait until completely placed before collecting their items. This will avoid direct hand-to-hand contact.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched counter surfaces.

5. Regulate Social Distancing via Physical Guides and Barriers

  • Install physical guides for social distancing, such as tape on floors and sidewalks. Place signage on walls reminding campers and staff to allow at least a six-foot distance between themselves and all others. Place these guides where guests form lines and in the kitchen.
  • Outline distances of six feet between employees and campers in dining areas with floor tape. If using serving lines, install barriers such as plexiglass sneeze guards and partitions, if feasible.
  • Limit the number of employees in shared spaces, such as the kitchen, offices, and break rooms, to allow six feet of space between individuals. Schedule break room use in intervals, cleaning and disinfecting between each use.
  • Restrict sharing of food, tools, equipment, and supplies by employees.
  • Provide adequate supplies for your employees to limit sharing frequently touched tools and utensils in the kitchen. If this is impossible, clean and disinfect between uses of shared supplies.

6. Communication and Guideline Changes

Your guests may have questions about your COVID-19 procedures, or even a concern while on site. A staff person for each shift should be delegated for responding to COVID-19 questions, with contact information available to all staff members.

The rise and fall of pandemic cases continue to change daily, so be aware that local regulatory/health authorities will likely change restriction levels for food services and the public. When these authorities eliminate restriction levels, continue to follow and monitor guidelines to the best of your ability for the safety of campers and staff. Check your state’s specific guidelines for reopening.


Kimberly Whiteside Truitt writes from experience as a camp food service manager and presented at the 2020 North American Camp Food Service and Maintenance Conference. She is married to Thomas and Mom to Eagle Scouts Harrison and Ben.