The state of healthcare foodservice: Operational obstacles

Flexibility has been the name of the game for many in the last year.
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Procuring products has been a challenge for 71% of survey respondents this year, and many say they have had to think on their feet when planning menus. 

“We have simply been adaptable and willing to make changes quickly,” says Toni Watkins, system director of food and nutrition services at Riverside Healthcare System in Newport News, Va. “It’s been important to maintain weekly contact or more with our vendor. We also have a supply list that is updated daily and sent to us so that we are aware of what is not in stock.”

Having multiple distributors has helped combat procurement challenges for the foodservice team at Coburg Village in Rexford, N.Y. They have also been purchasing more “convenience items” that reduce the amount of labor required, says Dining Service Director Danielle Wagar.

Sixty-five percent of respondents also say rising costs have been an issue. At Bronson Battle Creek Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., the dining team has sought to recoup lost profits through other revenue streams, such as take-home and carryout meals, says Executive Chef and Director of Food and Nutrition John Fear. 

Feeding the community, not the landfill 

While many survey respondents (63%) say that they have paused sustainability initiatives during the pandemic, some have worked with community partners to help cut food waste. 

At Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Mass., the foodservice team partnered with a local business that picked up leftover food and delivered it to shelters. “We bring it to the loading dock, and they don't have to enter the building,” says Executive Chef Gary Weiss. At Bronson Battle Creek Hospital, a local partner has provided composting services: “We compost all of our organic waste with a local produce hub who, in turn, sells us produce,” says Fear. 

Several respondents also say that they are allowing staff to take uneaten food. 

“We have begun ordering in advance so the kitchen knows how much of each meal to prepare so there is less waste at each,” says Brad Fassett, director of dining services for Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living in Somerset, N.J. “Staff at are also free to eat any leftovers from meals.” 

So long, salad bar

With self-service on hold, operators found new ways to utilize salad bars that would otherwise be sitting idle. Several survey respondents transformed their bars into make-your-own-salad stations where staff assemble salads for guests in front of them. At Logan County Hospital in Oakley, Kan., guests can customize their own 32 oz. salad bowls with toppings. “We have [guests] ask for the items they want from behind Plexiglass so that no one handles the food or tongs except dietary staff,” says Dietary Director Heather Huffman.

Others have turned their salad bars into additional grab-and-go spaces. “[We] filled this area with more pre-made salads and sandwiches and grab-and-go items,” says Rose Taylor, supervisor at Franciscan Health Michigan City in Michigan City, Ind.

And for many, these sorts of changes are here to stay. “Self service areas have been abolished for me, and most likely will be in the future,” says Robert Ivey, dining director and chef at Meadows of Forks in Easton, Pa. 

The salad bar at Concordia Village in Springfield, Ill. will also not be returning. “We will never open it again, and we are pondering on ways to use it or get rid of it and use the space differently,” says Director of Dining Services Stephane Perrin. 

In addition, expanded grab-and-go offerings will stick around, some survey respondents say. “Grab-and-go will continue to be a viable option, since it is a labor saver on the back end,” says Paula Cantu, director of food and nutrition at North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison, Ark. 



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