Walter Thurnhofer: Equipment Master

A third area of improvement was meal temperature at time of delivery to the patient—made possible by switching from steel pellets (which radiate heat to a tray’s main dish) to an induction heat base system. Thurnhofer reports that complaints have decreased significantly and cut down on risk of injury to staff and patients.

“The old steel pellet system heated to 300°F and some employees have accidentally hit their arms on the insides of the heated units,” he notes. “Also, the base was still hot when the meal was delivered to patients and that was a potential danger. So the induction base is a significant improvement over steel pellets.”

Having a blast: Next on his agenda is integration of blast-chill equipment into the temperature monitoring system. Not unlike many foodservice facilities across the country, UWMC never had a blast-chiller before, a situation that Thurnhofer equates with “the elephant in the room” that no one talks about in the hope that food-borne illness will be avoided just by adhering to older methodology.

“You can’t properly cool pre-prep or leftover items quickly enough in a walk-in,” he contends. “Food will not be cold enough in four hours to prevent bacterial growth. Blast chilling is the only way to guarantee safety.

“We bought our equipment—with a big remote compressor installed in the basement—because it complies with the NAFEM Data Protocol technology [and] we can connect it to the data monitoring system. Now, when the cooks roll in a cart of grilled chicken and a cart of beef stew and set probes in each, I’ll have an automatic record of how long it took to chill down.”

Later this year, Thurnhofer plans to purchase hand-held temperature recording units that can be programmed with the menus for the day. With that in hand, a foodservice worker can walk up to the line, stick a probe into any item, and electronically record the temperature of every item checked. The hand-held units will help eliminate paper documentation and reduce human error—not to mention being “fun for the staff.”

Also on the drawing board is the transitioning of patient meal delivery to room service, which he expects to offer from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. He estimates that once his proposal receives the go-ahead, the department will be ready to implement room service within six months—expecting to realize savings of 5% to 10% on food and supply costs as a result of reducing overproduction. However, the main objective—both his and his administrator’s—is to increase patient satisfaction scores to the mid-90s range.

Speaking of menus…: But even before transitioning to room service, he’s exploring implementation of the spoken menu. “It’s more real-time selection and for us that’s a key factor because we have two oncology units and those patients’ tastes change from hour to hour,” Thurnhofer points out. “I’ve met with their patient advisory group regarding making things more patient-friendly.”

Last year, cafeteria sales at the UW medical center rose 9% and a 5% increase is projected for fiscal 2005 (July 1-June 30). Thurnhofer attributes this in part to the addition of more healthful dining options at the behest of his boss and ceo, who indicated she wanted healthful dining options available daily.

Now, low-fat, low-sodium vegetarian choices are always offered and healthier cooking methods are utilized in the preparation of meat-based dishes.

The menu is also now translated into Chinese, Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese. “Because we’re a regional referral center, many patients come to us from other countries,” he notes. “Patients have responded happily plus we have created materials in those languages for the dietitians to use in teaching them about their special diets.”

He strives to make sure foods are menued that fit customers’ traditional food culture. “We’ve also invited our multi-national staff of 200 to suggest recipes,” he continues, “and we invite local chefs from restaurants in the community to come in and do signature meals to generate interest in our cafeteria.”

Overall, Thurnhofer believes in continually reminding his staff and personally modeling what customer focused service is all about. “I see this as, ‘It starts with the boss.’ They need to know there’s an expectation. They need to see me model that ‘We’re here to serve’ attitude.”
 

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The School District of Philadelphia and Baltimore City Public Schools are the latest districts in the Urban School Food Alliance to switch to compostable plates.

The move to the eco-friendlier products will save 19 million polystyrene products from landfills, according to a news release .

Schools often use polystyrene products due to their low cost. Polystyrene trays cost on average around 4 cents apiece, while compostable plates cost an average of 12 cents each. The Urban School Food Alliance’s collective buying power enabled them to create a compostable plate that costs...

Managing Your Business
allergies

Guy Procopio got a taste of the future when Michigan State University hosted a Boy Scout event in 2015. Out of 10,000 participants at the East Lansing, Mich., campus, Procopio, the director of dining services, received 1,400 requests to meet special dietary needs, including a wide spectrum of allergies, gluten intolerance or insensitivity, and other new or unusual hyper-specialized diets.

This dining trend isn’t letting up, at least in America: Food allergies in children increased approximately 50% from 1997 to 2011. They now affect one in 13 children in the United States,...

Industry News & Opinion

Students of Broward County Public Schools in Florida were treated to a special meal by celebrity chef Aria Kagan during lunch last week.

The chef and former contestant on “The Next Food Network Star” prepared her farm-fresh pesto panini in front of students at McNicol Middle School in Hollywood, Fla.

Her visit was part of the district’s Chefs Move to Broward initiative, through which a chef from nonprofit Wellness in the Schools visits district cafeterias each month to prepare a healthy meal. The chef then teaches cafeteria staff how to make the dish so it can be...

Managing Your Business
woman alone in kitchen

In a post-Harvey Weinstein world, there’s an awful anticipation over which star’s worst-kept secret will be outed next. The outpouring of claims of sexual harassment and abuse helped popularize the #MeToo social media campaign, encouraging women to share their stories and spurring allegations against upwards of 60 high-profile men. In October, the movement’s momentum hit the foodservice industry. Since, behemoths such as Mario Batali, John Besh and Todd English were forced to confront accusations of alleged sexual harassment or misconduct.

For many women, the scope of the industry’...

FSD Resources