August 29
From self-serve ordering kiosks to tableside tablets, technology is quickly changing the foodservice industry. This new technology comes with some challenges though; when customers use touchscreen devices to order food, they can transfer bacteria and other harmful pathogens – such as norovirus - onto the screens and then to other customers.
 
Still, customers appreciate convenience, and they’ve come to expect the same efficiencies and technologies in restaurants that they have access to everywhere else. So much so that some fast casual restaurants are experimenting with self-serve ordering kiosks and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
 
With this technology, customers order food via a kiosk or mobile app, and then pick up their food from cubbies. This model streamlines the restaurant experience and reduces wait times to less than 50 seconds in some cases. Tablets are making an appearance at full-service restaurants as well. Some have tablets at each table that customers can use to place orders, play games and in some cases pay for their meal.
 
Technology doesn’t just benefit customers; it can provide efficiencies for the organization as well. However, if your establishment is using touchscreen technologies, these efficiencies come with new food safety responsibilities.
 
Touchscreens: Ideal Homes for Pathogens
 
Touchscreens can harbor a multitude of pathogens. Because they’re warm, they can act as a sort of Petri dish. If not properly cleaned, a touchscreen can grow harmful microbes for weeks or months. Touchscreens are such ideal transmitters of pathogens that they’ve been called the “mosquitos of the digital age[1].”
 
One of the biggest concerns for restaurants is that customers who become ill from using a touchscreen to order could easily assume they contracted a foodborne illness during their meal.
 
If your establishment uses these new technologies, you must include them in your regular cleaning schedule. Most restaurants have procedures and policies in place for cleaning menus. If a tablet has become the new menu in your operation, make sure you have procedures and policies in place for cleaning tablets.
 
One other note on tablets: Restaurants are increasingly replacing pen and paper ordering with handheld touchscreen devices or tablets. Even if customers never handle these devices, it’s important they’re not overlooked in the cleaning schedule. While the back of the house is rigorous about wearing gloves, servers don’t usually wear gloves when serving food and can pass microbes from contaminated touchscreens to guests and other staff. 
  
Touchscreen Cleaning Best Practices: Antimicrobial Film
 
Another viable option is to add a layer of antimicrobial film to all touchscreens. The active ingredient of antimicrobial film is silver, which has antimicrobial properties
 
Antimicrobial film is widely available, though the silver component makes it expensive. If you’re worried about damaging your touchscreen technologies with disinfectants, antimicrobial film is a good long-term investment. While evaluating antimicrobial film, look for these features:
 
  • Proven antimicrobial effectiveness
  • Sensitivity of device is not affected by the film
  • Impact resistant
  • Is not damaged by disinfecting chemicals
 
New technologies can benefit both customers and restaurants by adding convenience and efficiency to the food ordering process. Make sure you add cleaning tablets or self-service kiosks to your operation’s cleaning schedule.

 
[1] Touchscreens: The Mosquito of the Digital Age. T. Rolfe, M. Nitti. Infection Control Tips. August, 2016. Link: https://infectioncontrol.tips/2016/08/08/touchscreens-the-mosquito-of-the-digital-age-433