If you think that maintaining a safe food environment can be challenging for restaurants, imagine how imperative it is for a hospital. Food safety in hospitals is of paramount importance, since their patient populations are at higher risk of developing a foodborne illness, especially:
Because age, chronic disease, and medications can compromise the immune system, these patients in particular have a much harder time fighting off pathogens in contaminated foods.
Let’s not forget, too, that hospitals themselves are potent sources of infection of all types. Without precise procedures in place, harmful germs can easily spread among patients, caregivers, and administrative staff. Hospitals typically do a good job of preventing foodborne illness due to four essential protocols:
Any foods prepared in hospital kitchens are, like the ingredients at any restaurant, sourced from outside processors, packagers, and distributors. In essence, hospital staff should not assume that suppliers have hygienic practices that meet their demanding standards. In fact, most instances of foodborne illness in hospitals occur doing the procurement process. For this reason, all incoming food products must be screened for biological, chemical, physical, and allergenic hazards.
A Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan is the best method for putting administrative policies in place that govern food safety procedures and operations along the entire food chain to ensure that only clean, healthy food is served to patients. To back up this internal process, most hospitals also schedule routine inspections by local and state regulatory authorities, such as The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and The Joint Commission.
Because pathogens typically survive and multiply within a set range of temperatures, ensuring that cold foods are kept cold and hot foods are kept hot can literally be a life or death issue. Digital temperature monitoring is standard at most hospitals, and typically occurs at several touchpoints:
Accurate records must also be kept and archived using daily checklists, patient tray accuracy reports, and quality audits conducted by an outside firm, to ensure that food service workers follow safety standards.
Perhaps the most important aspect of hospital food safety is helping hospital staff keep it top of mind. If employees know that cooking foods to a specific temperature will destroy microorganisms, then they can appreciate why it’s critical to monitor a food’s temperature. Understanding how bacteria, viruses, parasites, and people can contaminate food requires not only initial training, but refresher courses as well, so that food safety becomes second nature. Administrative staff should also be regularly briefed on safe food handling practices.
A standardized food safety seminar ought to be part of the orientation for all hospital staff before entering a kitchen or serving patients. Important topics to be covered would include:
You might say that hospital food safety is the ultimate case study of the hyper-vigilance required to protect patients against foodborne illness. Indeed, it would be wise for all food service companies to think of hospital food safety as a benchmark as they develop safety plans for their own operations.
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