Bulletin #2517, Maine Maple Tours: Guidance During COVID-19
Information for COVID-19
Developed by Jason Lilley, Sustainable Agriculture Professional, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Leigh Hallett, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, and Leah Cook, former Food Inspection Supervisor Federal/State Inspection Service, Maine Department of Agriculture.
Updated and revised September 2021 by Jason Lilley, Sustainable Agriculture Professional, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, retail-focused maple producers have had to make adjustments for the safety of their staff and customers. Maple Based Events face a unique problem for safe sales during the COVID-19 outbreak. Typically, these events can draw a large number of customers to the sugarhouse in a short period. Historically, those customers spend a significant amount of time on-farm for events like sugarhouse tours, pancake breakfasts, syrup tastings and more.
In light of the Delta variant, the risk that even vaccinated people can transfer the virus, and that children under 12 are not currently eligible to receive the vaccine, caution is still needed to avoid the spread of COVID-19. This involves developing and implementing protective measures to keep sugaring families, staff, and customers safe while staying open for business. This Guidance provides information on how to undertake these protective measures.
Overall, protocols for sanitization, customer flow, and payment methods must be planned to follow CDC recommendations with the goals of;
- maximizing space between household groups (> 6 feet),
- minimizeing touchpoints, and
- implementing systems to clean and disinfect areas of frequent contact.
Details of how to implement these goals into each aspect of open house events are explained below.
Communication and Marketing to the Public (Pre-Arrival)
- Update your website, social media, and (if relevant) MMPA directory listing with clear communication about what customers can expect when at this event.
- Keep communication with the public positive.
- Show the community that you are using recommended practices for sanitation and distancing (e.g. avoid posting pictures from last year’s event that show a sugarhouse packed with people, or other images of crowds).
- Business owners have the right to require the use of masks and face coverings on their property. If you plan to require masks at your open house, be sure to publicize that in advance.
- Maine CDC’s most recent face-covering FAQs and guidelines can be found on Maine CDC’s website.
- Instruct customers to stay home if they are feeling ill.
- Consider sharing the CDC COVID-19 Symptom Checker.
- Clarify your hours, if you are taking orders for pre-packed products online or over the phone, and anything else critical to the success of your system.
- Remember that most customers will be reassured by seeing that you are putting systems in place to keep them safe.
Determining the Safety of Entertainment Options (Pre-Planning)
When considering entertainment options to draw in customers, you will need to consider the level of risk inherent with that activity. Will it reduce customer flow and create crowded conditions? Will it involve people being inside, or needing to touch surfaces that several others are also touching? It will be up to you to evaluate whether you can create systems to minimize those risks, or whether it is safer to forgo certain activities this year.
- Plan for where there may be congestion of visitors that might call for some kind of ropes, barriers, etc. to help direct traffic.
- For example, as opposed to letting families walk through the sugarhouse, rope off the opened door and let them look in, or move a small evaporator outdoors for boiling demonstrations.
- Consider contingency plans for possible scenarios (if it rains, what will you do? If you get a rush of visitors, how will you handle the crowds?).
- To minimize your risk, you may choose to only offer maple products for grab-and-go sales.
Serving Food and Offering Samples
Serving food (such as breakfasts) on-site should be avoided. If you decide to offer on-site food, keep in mind the following:
- Serving Food: The best practice is to ensure at least 6’ between all parties and seating.
- Provide handwashing stations and toilet facilities.
- Avoid buffet/ self-serve food samples.
- Have a masked staff member hand out samples from behind a sneeze guard.
- Create an area away from the sample distribution area where groups can taste and maintain 6’ from others.
- Use of prepackaged food and beverages is encouraged.
- Have a trained staff member safely and regularly clean and disinfect all tables and other high-touch surfaces.
Parking and Welcome Area Layout (Day of)
- Put up barriers and signage posting your policies between your parking area and welcoming booth, plus barriers to keep the traffic flowing in one direction, minimizing person-to-person contact.
- Place the check-in far from the check-out area to prevent crossing traffic.
- Provide a handwashing station or hand sanitizer at the entrance and throughout the area(s) that visitors will be.
- Customers should be instructed to wash/sanitize hands before entering that space, and before consuming any food products.
- Train staff to uphold these rules and create a plan for positively responding to potential confrontational customer interactions resulting from requests to wait in line or to wear a mask.
- Have products for sale near the parking area. This way customers who just want to buy products can avoid the more congested areas.
- Have someone designated to handle money. Staff handling money and interacting with clients should wash their hands frequently, and wear a face mask.
- Keep the check-out area separate from the welcome area to minimize crowding. Options include:
- Drive-thru style checkouts. Staff can load products into the trunk of customers’ cars. Payment can be made through the car window.
- Plexiglass protected checkout. Install plexiglass between staff and customers. Sanitize the card reader often, on a set schedule, preferably after every transaction.
- Online payment. By setting up an online shopping and payment system, you can minimize these concerns. This does increase staffing needs to pull and prepare orders.
Liability and Due Diligence
- Be sure to check in with your insurance company to make sure that the activities that you have selected will be covered by your policy.
- Be sure to post the Maine Agritourism Liability sign prominently. Members can purchase these through the Maine Maple Producers Association or the Maine Farm Bureau.
- Always be sure to do a safety walk-through before opening to the public to address tripping hazards, chemical storage, electrocution hazards, keys removed from the equipment and implements down, etc.
While there is great potential for these events, all participating producers must take the risk involved seriously. Many producers may choose to minimize this risk by offering maple products for grab-and-go sales only. Others may choose more involved entertainment options, but must do so with careful planning. Developing those plans to follow the current CDC recommendations, including maximizing space between people (> 6’), minimizing touch points, and cleaning and disinfecting areas of frequent contact will ensure everyone’s safety and a successful event.
For More Information
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
© 2020, 2021
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