COVID-19 has brought on its share of challenges for healthcare facilities, including its effect on food service.
As hospitals have seen a decline in revenue due to lower retail sales and higher patient costs — such as this facility in Forth Worth, Texas — they’ve had to adapt their food service operations.
Loss such as this has encouraged hospitals to get creative and modify operations to address the current restrictions and limitations. Here are some of the ways they’ve responded to the challenges of the pandemic to meet changing consumer needs.
Grab and Go
Hospitals have turned to pre-packaged, grab-and-go options throughout the pandemic to sustain their ability to serve customers while decreasing contact.
Some facilities have begun taking advanced to-go orders for team members, patients, and customers to reduce long lines and bottlenecks during peak rush times.
Many hospitals have also transformed their self-serve stations into an assembly-line style, such as those popularized by Chipotle or Subway. Team members handle each step in the process to help the consumer customize their meal while minimizing the risk for cross-contamination.
Food service leaders are still unsure when they’ll return to self-serve stations or if the assembly-line style is something that’s here to stay. In the meantime, they continue to follow local and federal guidelines.
As more Americans become vaccinated and we eventually come out of the pandemic, many customers may still desire the more contact-free environment the assembly-line offers.
We’ve also seen the shift to smaller or limited menus in healthcare facilities. Due to shortages in the supply chain, many hospitals have narrowed food options and taken a more need-based approach.
Although temporarily limiting menus may be disappointing to some customers, it has allowed facilities to serve more food to more people and highlight popular dishes and menu items.
This strategy has helped hospital food service operations sustain retail sales while becoming more efficient in purchasing and inventory — results that may entice some businesses to keep the trend going in a post-COVID world.
Often associated with soda and candy, vending machines are now providing easy access to healthier items for healthcare workers. Similar to the benefits of a ramped-up grab-and-go station, vending machines make healthy, on-the-go eating more accessible for nurses and physicians working long hours.
Even before the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common for frontline workers to miss out on enjoying a sit-down meal due to their busy schedules or working overnight and early morning shifts.Though it gained popularity during the pandemic, vending machines with healthy options may be a trend that’s here to stay.
Supporting Healthcare Workers
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen communities rally around supporting medical staff, even if just by providing encouragement through a meal.
Local restaurants, businesses, and facilities’ culinary teams have banded together to help provide meals to healthcare workers.
Some facilities have even set up essential markets for frontline staff who may not have time to grocery shop due to their long hours. These markets supply essentials such as milk, bread, eggs, sugar, and bottled water.
Sanitation and Infection Prevention
While the CDC has proven that surface transmission of COVID-19 is low, the pandemic has raised awareness among consumers of the importance of infection prevention for all potential bacteria and viruses.
Emphasizing cleanliness and sanitary food preparation practices, especially in healthcare facilities, is a positive result of pandemic and will carry on to help prevent diseases that do spread through surface transmission.