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Food safety in hospitals and elder care facilities should be top of mind. These populations are generally more susceptible to infectious diseases than most, and as such, are at a higher risk of developing foodborne illness.

Take for instance, patients with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy. In addition to destroying cancer cells, chemo treatments can also attack healthy cells, leaving fewer white blood cells to fight infection. During this time, exposure to a foodborne illness can prove disastrous to their immune system, which is why many chemo patients are put on special diets that exclude uncooked fruits and veggies.   In fact, a single hospital food safety hazard could result in a life-threatening outbreak. This is why food handling protocols and continuous food safety training are critical to protecting the lives of hospital patients.

Foodborne Illness Prevention

Because hospitals themselves are often sources of infection, inadequate or poorly followed protocols can allow dangerous microorganisms to spread among patients, health care workers, administrative staff, and visitors. The most common routes of transmission are:

  • contaminated food
  • person-to-person transmission
  • contaminated surfaces or objects

Hospitals can significantly mitigate risks by focusing on three areas:

  1. developing and implementing a comprehensive food safety program
  2. monitoring and recording
  3. ongoing food safety training

Creating a Hospital Food Safety Program

Like any food service business, foods found in hospital kitchens are sourced from suppliers. Though it is often assumed that food suppliers uphold best practices to prevent food contamination, an alarming number of cases of foodborne illness in hospitals trace back to procurement, indicating the presence of contamination at the time of delivery. This is why the first step in fighting contamination starts with screening all incoming food products for biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Failure to follow this essential control measure can result in devastating consequences.

To prevent these risks, hospitals are required to have a HACCP-based food safety program. This program will assist you in determining, implementing, and managing effective procedures to ensure only safe food is served to patients. To verify the efficacy of their food safety program, many hospitals employ the help of a food safety consultant.

Monitoring & Recording

Hospital food service departments should have policies and procedures addressing daily inspections of kitchens and all food handling, as well as food temperatures, tray accuracy, and tray distribution.  Because pathogens (e.g. certain viruses and bacteria) generally live and multiply within a set range of temperatures, keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold is imperative to hospital food safety. This includes the monitoring of:

  • refrigerator temperatures
  • final cooking temperatures
  • hot-holding and cold-holding temperatures
  • dishwashing machine temperatures and concentrations

Accurate records and daily checklists must be kept and archived. Examples of records include:

  • temperature logs
  • patient tray accuracy reports
  • cleaning and sanitation logs
  • quality audits conducted by outside companies

Ongoing Food Safety Training

In a hospital setting food handlers include nurses and staff who serve meals.  These team members should each be trained in the different types of food contamination, safe food handling practices, personal hygiene, sanitation and allergens. Making food safety training a part of the onboarding process for all medical and administrative staff will significantly increase the strength of contamination prevention efforts. This training should focus on:

  • proper refrigeration, freezing, thawing and reheating of foods
  • effective cleaning and sanitizing practices
  • pathogen types and prevention measures
  • high-risk foods and symptoms of food-borne illness
  • common allergens and how they affect the body

It’s important that hospital food service workers each understand their own role in keeping food safe and the why behind the food safety tasks they are required to perform. Understanding the how food contamination may occur requires both initial and continuous training to reinforce best practices until they become second nature.

If you’re looking to protect your facility’s patients, workers, and visitors, Avert Food Safety Advisors can help you develop a comprehensive food safety program, customized to your company’s needs. We also offer employee training to help your staff understand the importance of best practices and build a company culture based on food safety. The health of your clients and company is on the line. Let us help you protect what matters most.

Contact Avert today at 702-706-6574, or visit our website here.


Matthew McClure provides sound strategies that instill cost-effective methods for building robust food safety, operational and quality assurance programs. Along with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Microbiology from The University of Akron and an MBA in Finance from Louisiana State University, Matthew brings over 20 years of experience in the food safety industry to AVERT Food Safety Advisors. His knowledge spans many areas including FDA food processing facilities, USDA meat and poultry plants, dietary supplement manufacturers, retail, cannabis manufacturing, and food service operations.

Contact us for more information: | Tel: +1 702.706.6574

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