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Hospital food service is one of the more complicated systems within the hospitality sector. Why? Hospital menus are, first and foremost, based on the curative and nutritional needs of patients in order to support the healing process. Yet, at the same time, hospital chefs must pay attention to variety, quality, aesthetics, and taste so that patients will find the foods appealing.
Unfortunately, since hospital food is regarded first as a form of therapy and second as a source of pleasure, necessary therapeutic modifications can render meals unappetizing (e.g., low sodium, fat, and sugar). Furthermore, food safety is critical to hospital food services, particularly when preparing and serving meals for patients with compromised immunity who are therefore more susceptible to foodborne illness.
In a hospital kitchen, chefs work closely with clinical dietitians to create interesting menus that try to be — all at once — wholesome, nutritious, flavorful, and safe. In turn, clinical dietitians perform kitchen audits to ensure standards are maintained, operations are optimized, and ingredient choices maximize patient outcomes.
Aligning these culinary and clinical goals can be challenging to achieve, as many discontented patients, families, and employees can testify. Because dissatisfaction with hospital food is widespread, offering an enriched dining experience can be a significant differentiator regarding public perception of quality. Accordingly, in this post, we take a look at how investing in IoT-enabled connected food service operations can help hospitals improve satisfaction with their food service.
Hospitals sometimes fail to live up to the ideals the public holds about their status as centers for healing. Improving nutritional outcomes for patients through healthy food initiatives is, therefore, a growth area in which healthcare providers, suppliers, and public health organizations can achieve greater alignment.
With the decline in nutritional status associated with prolonged hospital stays and growth in outpatient care, it is essential that hospitals improve the nutritional value of their menus. Healthy food is critical in two ways: maximizing the patient’s outcomes while in the hospital (as well as during follow-up care at home or at a clinic) and achieving the KPIs targeted by hospital management.
In addition to nutritional value, the freshness, quality, and safety of hospital food require continuous improvements as well. Kitchen and cafeteria operating procedures must ensure that products are stored at the right temperature and humidity.
Within most hospital settings, continuous asset monitoring is already in place to ensure medicines, vaccines, and blood products comply with safety regulations. While asset protections must also be in place for food, installation and implementation cannot be uniform for both. Critically, the solution’s operating procedures, automated workflows, and monitoring practices must serve the specific needs of each type of asset.
For example, chefs and clinical dietitians must satisfy different requirements than those of pharmacy directors or facilities managers. The compliance standards for medical products and their environments are more stringent than those for food safety. And because safe temperature ranges for food and medicines differ, alert management and corrective workflows must be established to serve the distinct application in which they function.
Application functionality is just one of the challenges facing hospital food service staff. Menus can change at a moment’s notice when supply chain blockages obstruct shipments, while the labor shortage can trigger staffing gaps — both potentially compromising daily operations. On top of that, there’s always the possibility of equipment malfunction when it’s least convenient.
Because of these challenges, managers of hospital kitchens and cafeterias must consider the following factors when deciding to implement integrated technology that bridges physical and digital workflows:
The demand for quality hospital food extends beyond patients to their families and to hospital employees. Hospitals have strong incentives to set a good example for families of patients and to promote healthy eating at home after discharge. As teaching institutions, hospitals are invested in passing on lessons of wellness to their clinicians in training. And as institutions upholding the public trust, hospitals also must serve the needs of the local community, the national economy, and the global environment.
Hospitals can serve as models of healthy eating for the larger public by promoting nutritious foods, proper investment in food safety practices, and proactive partnership with third-party food service providers. Since prevention is a principal value of clinical practice — and given that many leading causes of preventable illness and premature death in the U.S. are diet-related (e.g., obesity, diabetes, heart disease) — it only makes good sense that hospitals have a stake in promoting good food as good medicine.
Hospitals are not the only not-for-profit institutions that the public trusts and expects to provide healthy food to its constituents. Children in public schools are as crucial a population as hospital patients in terms of each group’s dependence on providers other than their families to meet their nutritional needs.
Katy ISD, a leading organization in southeast Texas serving more than 94,000 K-12 students, is a great example of an educational institution that has successfully implemented IoT Sensing-as-a-Service to optimize and enrich food operations at public schools.
Previously, Katy ISD’s Nutrition and Food Service department had been using a paper-based method to record food temperatures taken by employees for its 78 kitchens. That process made managing food safety and HACCP compliance difficult, as employees sometimes would forget to write temperatures down or would record false temperatures merely to show compliance. Additionally, the existing paperwork in Katy ISD’s menu management software, PrimeroEdge, featured only three instances for temperature recording — cooked temperature, whole temperature, and serve temperature.
Collaborating with SmartSense, Katy ISD achieved the following objectives:
In this video testimonial, Dagmara Gujda (Associate Director of Compliance, Nutrition and Food Service, Katy ISD) and Jodie Defrancesco (Assistant Director, Nutrition Services, Pasadena ISD) share how SmartSense helps their school districts easily achieve HACCP compliance, automate menu integration with PrimeroEdge, and ensure food safety for thousands of students.
As the case of Katy ISD illustrates, providing quality food is critical to not-for-profit organizations, such as hospitals and schools, that are trusted by the public to deliver the nutritional and dietary requirements of the populations they serve. When patients, students, families, employees, and the larger public witness hospital and school kitchens and cafeterias taking extra care to use healthier and safer ingredients in their food service, they have greater confidence in the institution overall.
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