With COVID-19 vaccinations incrementally making their way into the arms of the U.S. population, more employees will likely begin to feel more comfortable transitioning from remote at-home work back to the office in the coming months, provided every precaution to ensure their safety is in place.
Operators responded to COVID-19’s unprecedented sanitization and social distancing demands early on and have been instrumental wherever possible in the gradual, safe reopening of the accounts they serve. Many began making face masks and hand sanitizer available through vending and at micro markets, and supplying personal protective equipment to locations for easy distribution to and access by their employees.
Operators have also worked hand in hand with locations to help implement and adhere to more rigorous protocols for regular, thorough cleaning and disinfection of coffee and vending machines, along with equipment kiosk screens, touchpads and buttons. In some locations, for example, the norm is now to provide disinfectant wipes near vending machines.
Many operators have taken it a step further by adding sanitization as a service, which includes applying next-generation products that limit transmission of the virus on high-touch surfaces (defined as any area sustaining more than one contact per interaction).
Suppliers have also stepped up by adding to the arsenal new COVID-inspired breakroom solutions, including touchless coffee brewing, dispensing and vending equipment, and individually wrapped condiments, cups and utensils.
While the return to locations will continue to be gradual and may not reach pre-COVID levels rapidly, the downtime only provides more opportunity to be gained by taking proactive measures to ensure employee comfort and wellbeing to encourage their return.
Troy Hinkle, owner of Norcross, GA-based Refreshment Works, is a 30-year vending and office coffee service veteran who has done just that. He responded to the lockdown in March that shuttered the majority of the locations he served with a pioneering solution by cofounding Touch Point Science with Jim Loricchio, an antimicrobial expert.
Their next-generation Safertouch films and SaferTape tapes, available for sale to convenience service operators nationwide, provide layers of protection for common touch points to keep the surface free of microorganisms. They contain an optimized antimicrobial agent designed to provide continuous protection for use in offices, breakrooms and touchpoints throughout facilities.
In workplace refreshments, Safertouch antimicrobial touchscreen overlays provide an effective barrier for touchscreens on coffee brewers, vending machines and kiosks. Hinkle drew from his decades of experience as an operator to develop Safertouch antimicrobial film customized for some of the most popular brewing and vending equipment models.
For the Keurig B3000, for example, antimicrobial film covers are included for both the handle and buttons in sets for 10 machines and turnkey kits are available for Starbucks Serenade and Newco CX Touch to name just a few.
“This keeps these coffee brewers and vending machines cleaner, your employees safer and helps reduce the anxiety associated with returning to normal everyday operations,” Hinkle said. “It’s not a silver bullet to bring people back, but we’ve deployed our solution for the breakroom at every customer we have that’s open. Most of our customers are not fully back if at all and I would say that still holds true for the rest of the industry. But we are set up to safely protect surfaces when more people return.”
He emphasized that operators should be proactively positioning themselves to be viewed not only as workplace refreshment providers, but as sanitation solution providers in the return-to-work landscape amid COVID.
“Who will they allow in? After 9/11, buildings eliminated who could come in because of the security risk,” he recalled. “Now it will be the same, with limitations but because of a health risk. I’d rather be a solution provider in front, so I don’t lose my place to be allowed in.”
Hinkle provides Touch Point Science’s antimicrobial film and tape for free to his customers as part of his service to keep them safe when deploying equipment. This has led to requests from locations to deploy the solution throughout the facility, which the operator provides for a charge.
Beyond the breakroom, Safertouch antimicrobial door handle wraps and elevator button film covers are effective barriers and provide a visual cue signaling the added layer of safety. The film can be custom designed to fit most door handles and large-format sheets and rolls of Safertouch film are available for further onsite customization or to fit unique uses.
SaferTape antimicrobial tape is a flexible and highly visible solution for surfaces like emergency door handles, handrails and vending machine trays and conforms to a variety of shapes and irregular surfaces. The translucent tape shows up best on light-colored surfaces and the solid blue tape is more clearly visible on darker surfaces.
All SaferTape and Safertouch products are effective for six months, are easily removed and leave no residue.
Touch Point also offers awareness clings to draw attention to the film and tape-protected surfaces and reassure employees about their safety with messaging like “We keep it clean in between your cleanings” and “Touch safer when you touch the blue.” The clings come with a QR code that can be scanned with a phone and take the user to Touch Point’s website to learn more about its products. There is also a “date of application” field that can be updated every time an operator makes a new application of the product.
“To get people back to work, we need to build confidence that the workplace is safe and clean. As vaccines roll out to the population and masks remain the norm, people will still be anxious about touching common surfaces at work,” Loricchio emphasized. “Many of us have gotten better at pressing buttons with our elbows and holding doors open with our feet, but this will not work forever.”
ONE-STOP PPE SHOP
Land O’ Lakes, FL-based Holiday House Distributing, a leading distributor of OCS, water purification and vending machine parts and accessories, has been ramping up its distribution of PPE products to enable operators help workplaces to safely reopen. It offers a similar solution as the exclusive distributor of Kleen-Slate Antimicrobial Film, which uses Agion as the antimicrobial agent. The film comes in 2 in. x 50 ft., 4 in. x 50 ft. and 20 in. x 12 in. rolls that can be cut to specific needs for such high-touchpoint areas as touchscreens, railings, handles, countertops and elevator buttons, among others.
Holiday House’s PPE lineup includes medical-grade hand sanitizer, made in the U.S., with 70% ethyl alcohol that kills 99.9% of germs. It’s offered in 32-fl.oz., 64-fl.oz. and 128-fl.oz. containers. The company also markets a line of automatic touch-free dispensers in floor-standing or wall-mount models that are suited for a variety of environments.
Also available from Holiday House are disposable face masks with adjustable nose piece in 10-ct. boxes ideal for sale through vending machines or at micro markets and in larger, 50-ct. boxes. Holiday House also offers nitrile single-use disposable gloves in small, medium and large sizes in 100-ct. boxes.
Two- and three-tier closed cup dispensers with germ shield safely deliver one cup at a time to eliminate multiple touches and are made with durable ABS plastic construction and a space-saving, spring-loaded design. The stackable dispensers can fit 12-fl.oz. to 16-fl.oz. paper or plastic cups, with inserts for various cup sizes available. They can be paired with “Push and Go” lid dispensers, which accommodate coffee, fountain and domed lids.
Holiday House is also offering a touchless solution that converts conventional faucets to cup-activated handles with convenient one-hand dispensing. One model works with most faucet guards and the other works with standard faucets.
“The public is heavily in favor of touchless fixtures in public environments,” commented Holiday House Distributing vice-president of sales and marketing Barbara Russell. “Even though this was becoming the preferred preference before COVID-19, American attitudes have changed fairly dramatically toward wanting touchless. Fortunately, we have relatively easy conversions that can be added to most existing tea and coffee faucets.”
Another sweeping trend inspired by the need for ultimate sanitation in the breakroom amid the pandemic has been replacing communal condiments with single serving, individually wrapped items.
Alliant Coffee Solutions, headquartered in Edmonds, WA, has answered this need with a variety of individually wrapped items, including 10-fl.oz. and 12-fl.oz. single-wall and 10-fl.oz. dual-wall hot cups and lids. Balancing sanitation with sustainability, the wrappers and cups are produced with recycled, bio-enhanced resins that are degradable in active landfills and are recyclable.
Eliminating the need to linger in the breakroom to customize beverages or share bulk containers are individually wrapped condiment packages that bundle sugar and sugar substitute packets, creamer, napkin and stirrer.
Focused on the workplace market, Alliant Coffee Solutions also offers individually wrapped, eco-friendly wooden stirrers and white paper straws.
Despite COVID’s game-changing challenges that the industry must navigate to help minimize the risk of the virus’s spread, suppliers are continuing to innovate, and operators are in a prime position to take an active role in determining the best practices and process changes that will become part of everyday business going forward.
Among the many useful resources available to navigate this new environment is the American Industrial Hygiene Association – backtoworksafely.org – which features expert, industry-specific guidance for businesses and consumers to safely reengage as they emerge from the COVID quarantines. Its overall objective is to help ensure that work-related occupational and environmental health and safety hazards are anticipated and eliminated or controlled. ■