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When It Comes to Reopening: Training, Transparency Are Key

As states around the country begin to ease restrictions on movement and reopen businesses, hotels are wondering: How can I safely resume my business for both my staff and my guests? From re-opening logistics (Do I need to redesign my common spaces? How do I implement traffic flow controls?) to reassuring guests and staff that entering the business space is safe, businesses are looking for answers. To find some answers to common questions, Hospitality Technology spoke with Dr. Ruth Petran, Vice President, Food Safety and Public Health at Ecolab, a hygiene and sanitation company.

What are some of the most common questions/concerns Ecolab is encountering from hotels when it comes to ensuring guest safety?

As hotels look to reopen and begin to return to normalized business operations, their primary concern is keeping their guests and employees safe. Most hotels have never faced the need to essentially shut down for such an extended time, and we’re working with hotel operators and managers as they evaluate all the logistics that go into resuming operations.

Prior to the pandemic, Ecolab worked closely with its hotel partners to provide comprehensive cleaning and sanitizing procedures, training and products to safeguard employees and guests. Now, we are reinforcing many of the same behaviors and standard cleaning protocols, but we are also focused on looking at where there needs to be more rigor, accountability and transparency in how hotels are keeping their facilities clean. We’re seeing an increase in requests for employee training, especially as hotels look to expand their use of disinfectants to all hard surfaces and prepare to respond to customers to reassure their safety within their operations.

What are some examples of how hotels will need to rethink common space layouts and traffic flow of guests?

It’s important to recognize that there is no blanket approach the industry can take. A hotel in downtown Manhattan may have different risk factors to consider compared to a roadside motel in rural America.

For hotels in high density areas, there may be stricter social distancing guidelines, such as spacing out guest rooms or having one designated entry and exit for guests that is disinfected regularly. And social distancing guidelines or mask wearing will likely be mandated by local governments.

What will be important as hotels rethink traffic flow is to consider how that impacts high touch areas and what specific touchpoints will now need to be included in cleaning and disinfecting procedures. For example, if new foot traffic paths lead to increased interaction with certain door handles or elevator banks, cleaning protocols should be updated to accommodate those.

What kind of changes to cleaning of public areas and guestrooms will need to be implemented? 

First, there will be a focus on re-training staff to ensure that they are following updated procedures for cleaning and disinfecting guest rooms. These trainings will ensure that all areas of a guest room – even those that are rarely touched – are properly disinfected using EPA approved disinfectants.

For example, while standard hotel protocols focus on bathroom facilities and high touch areas, broader protocols will require housekeepers to disinfect all hard surfaces. There will also be an emphasis on using disinfecting products correctly. Training should specify how products should be applied to surfaces and how long products must remain wet on a surface to properly disinfect.

Second, much of what was once done ‘behind the scenes’ when it comes to cleaning of guest rooms and common areas throughout a hotel will now become more visible and transparent. There will be additional communications to guests on how rooms are disinfected, and more cleaning will take place throughout the day versus during off-peak times.

How will these cleaning changes need to be communicated to guests?

We’re already seeing large hotel chains as well as industry associations, such as the American Hotel and Lodging Association, start to provide guidance on reopening hotels. This process is going to be communicated very openly by the industry overall and will be a critical factor in hotels providing assurance to their customers. Each property will take its own approach on communicating their specific actions around infection prevention at their facility, but it will be an important part of the re-open strategy for all property owners and managers.

Any other thoughts?

As hotels reopen, there will be an emphasis on ensuring that disinfecting products are used correctly -now and as they were pre-COVID-19 – and that proper hand hygiene protocols are followed. Training should specify how products should be applied to surfaces, how long products must remain on a surface to properly disinfect (e.g. keeping surface wet for both sanitization and disinfection to ensure product achieves the expect result). In addition, more in-depth handwashing and hand sanitizing procedures should be put in place and required of hotel employees.

For areas that manage food, there may be added steps to disinfect food contact surfaces when risks indicate – now and until there is a vaccine – that will be followed by standard wash, rinse and sanitize procedures.

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About the Author

Dr. Ruth Petran is Senior Corporate Scientist, Food Safety and Public Health for Ecolab Inc., the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services that protect people and vital resources.

In her current role, Dr. Petran provides technical expertise and consultation to internal and external customers on food safety and public health issues, by identifying and tracking emerging food safety trends and new control strategies.  To be most impactful, these span the food supply chain from farm to manufacturing processes and to food service and retail.

Dr. Petran is a certified food scientist and has served two terms on the National Advisory Committee for the Microbiological Criteria for Foods. She is an Executive Board member of the International Association for Food Protection and is also a member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), where she's served on awards committees and has been active in the IFT-Food Microbiology Division.  She chairs the Minnesota Food Safety and Defense Task Force, and has advised the Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture on needed revisions to the state’s food code. 

Dr. Petran has a bachelor’s degree in Consumer Food Science from Cornell University, a master’s degree in Food Science from the University of Minnesota, and a doctorate in Public Health from the University of Minnesota. Her thesis focused on the value of leveraging data from health department inspections to improve food safety.

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