There are few industries, it seems, that are immune from the effects of a viral outbreak — and fast-food is certainly not one of them. With cases of the coronavirus now topping 100,000 worldwide, according to the latest numbers from John Hopkins University, the pressure is mounting for companies like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Starbucks to address concerns about whether or not their restaurants are safe.
On an information page, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the virus is “generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets” and that there is “no evidence” to support the virus being transmitted through food. “In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures,” the CDC writes.
Still, some employees seem on edge about the possibility of it spreading.
Chipotle workers staged a walkout on Thursday, claiming that the company has a history of “penalizing” those who take paid sick leave, putting them in danger. “It’s a lot more serious now. This disease is deadly,” a 20-year-old Chipotle employee named Carlos Hernandez told the Labor Press. Hernandez and his colleagues have filed an official complaint with the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection through the Service Employees International Union. (SEIU did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment).
In an email to Yahoo Lifestyle, Chipotle says it is “investigating these claims,” but stresses that strong actions are being taken to ensure the cleanliness and safety of all involved. “We are following our existing industry-leading protocols, which prepare us for unforeseen events like COVID-19,” a Chipotle spokesperson says. “These include wellness checks; paid sick leave starting on the first day of employment; air treatment systems; [and] Purell sanitizer for employees and guests.”
The company added that it has instated “personal hygiene requirements” for employees that include “hand-washing every hour.” As for sick days, the burrito behemoth contests the allegations that employees are forced to work when sick, and even — according to Hernandez and other protestors— relegated to tasks where germs are more dangerous, like washing dishes.
“Chipotle’s policy is to fully comply with the Sick and Safe Leave Act, and we communicate to all employees how they can properly request sick time,” a spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Chipotle’s engaged and hard-working employees are what makes us great, and we encourage our employees to contact us immediately, including through an anonymous 800 number, with any concerns...”
Burger King, which has over 7,000 stores nationwide, says it’s also encouraging more hand-washing. “We have been monitoring the situation carefully and looking to public health officials for guidance. They continue to advise that the risk to the public in the United States remains low,” the company tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Additionally, we are reminding employees, restaurant owners and team members that they should continue to observe normal health, safety and hygiene practices, such as regular hand washing.”
Starbucks, a company that’s known for its progressive employee policies and benefits, directed Yahoo Lifestyle to an open letter the company sent to its stakeholders on March 4, which outlines efforts the company has made to combat the crisis. “Our focus remains on two key priorities: Caring for the health and well-being of our partners and customers and playing a constructive role in supporting local health officials and government leaders as they work to contain the virus,” the letter reads.
Among the precautions that the coffee maker is taking are: “pausing the use of personal cups” and other reusable items from home, increasing the amount of cleaning and sanitizing at all stores, restricting all business travel and postponing any large meetings. The company says it will continue to honor the 10-cent discount for “personal wares” no matter what.
McDonald’s, the third-largest fast-food chain in the U.S., has been immersed in the crisis due to its large presence in China, where a spike in cases prompted the company to temporarily shut down 300 of its restaurants. Thus far, there have been no plans announced to close any of its U.S. chains, but in a video on Friday the company’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said he’s decided to cancel McDonald’s worldwide convention of franchisees — typically held in Orlando, Fla. — and host it virtually instead.
“Protecting the wellbeing of our people and our customers is our number one priority and guides each and every decision we make,” said Kempczinski. “That’s why we have been proactively monitoring the impact of coronavirus and taking measures to protect the health and safety of our people, our customers and the broader community. We have and will continue to provide tools and resources for restaurants to enhance our everyday commitment to the highest possible standards of hygiene and cleanliness.”
While delivery start-ups like Postmates are debuting plans to launch “non-contact deliveries,” none of the restaurants interviewed mentioned plans to reduce the interaction between employees and customers. Subway, America’s biggest fast-food chain, did not reply to requests for comment from Yahoo Lifestyle.
Related Video: Is It Safe to Shop for Food?
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle's newsletter.