April 09, 2020 | Hospitals & Health Care
Providing food service in healthcare facilities poses unique challenges not faced by other commercial kitchens. For patients in hospitals, the food they receive is one of the major factors that influence how satisfied they were with their stay. For healthcare facilities, kitchens aren't just concerned with keeping patients and visitors fed — they're also concerned with patient satisfaction, meeting specific dietary requirements, and avoiding contamination with common major allergens. Fortunately, there are ways that hospital kitchens can be optimized to be as efficient as possible while meeting their guests' needs.
When planning any commercial kitchen, it's important to first look at the menu. The kind of dishes that a kitchen produces dictates the kind of equipment that it needs in order to function. Some healthcare facilities need to tailor their menus to the patients they serve. (As an example, the dining room of a facility that cares for cancer patients centers its menu around food likely to appeal to people suffering from chemotherapy-related appetite changes.) Hospital eateries also often serve as more than a way to feed patients and staff — they're frequently gathering places for the local community. This means that healthcare facilities need to be able to quickly, safely, and efficiently serve a large number of guests every day.
One unique problem that healthcare facilities have to manage is the particular requirements of their guests. Many patients have specific dietary needs that have to be addressed. When designing a healthcare facility's kitchen, it's imperative to set up allergen-safe areas that can minimize cross-contamination. "Purple stations" contain their own tools and equipment, allowing cooks to prepare allergen-free meals without fear of cross-contamination.
With the menu, needed equipment, customer load, and allergen needs in mind, the rest of the hospital kitchen design process can begin.
The days of lackluster hospital food and cafeteria-like spaces with dull paint and fluorescent lighting are far behind. Now, more and more hospitals are moving to a lighter, brighter, more community-focused setup for their dining facilities. The planning and layout of their kitchens reflect a balance between form and function, emphasizing healthy choices alongside optimal efficiency and food safety.
For kitchens with a simple menu that comprises a limited number of dishes, an assembly line layout can work wonders. This lets food start at one end of the line, passing through each stage of prep as quickly as possible. Each station is only responsible for one step in the process, so it's possible to turn out a large number of meals quickly. This layout can make allergen cross-contamination a possibility, so extra care should be taken to establish an allergen-free menu or separate prep area.
For some kitchens, it may be easier and more efficient to organize appliances and prep surfaces along the walls, or as an island in the middle. This gives cooks the ability to move freely around the kitchen and works better for kitchens with a more varied menu. If the facility's kitchen updates its special menu items regularly, it may also be wise to plan for mobile kitchen appliances — this allows chefs to move them around as needed.
Since hospitals and healthcare facilities still need to produce a large volume of food and must maintain very strict standards of hygiene, choosing the right fixtures is extremely important. Prep surfaces should be high enough to help cooks avoid repetitive stress injuries. Work surfaces should allow staff to tell at a glance if any spills need cleaning up, as well as be easy to sanitize.
Wall shelves and storage areas need to be easy to organize, preferably with separate storage for conventional and allergen-free ingredients. If conventional and allergen-free food storage areas need to share space, never place conventional ingredients above allergen-free ingredients; a single crumb from a loaf of wheat bread landing on a loaf of gluten-free bread can trigger a serious reaction in a person who requires a gluten-free diet.
Modern hospital kitchen design chooses to emphasize wellness, hope, and fresh, local ingredients. Steam trays and cafeteria-style dining are things of the past. Appliances like microgreen growers allow kitchens to have access to fresh greens year-round, regardless of the climate or season. Since hospital kitchens serve the local community as well as staff and patients, it's a good idea to consider adding amenities like coffee bars or food carts.
Some kitchens are modernizing the way patients order their meals, too. Patient room service can allow people to see a digital menu tailored to their dietary needs, and select the meals they want. This can improve patient satisfaction, and, in some cases, even patient health outcomes.
There's a lot to consider when it comes to commercial kitchen design, and this is doubly true for hospitals and healthcare facilities. They not only serve the public, but they also have to be perfectly clean, satisfy patients' wants, and create meals that suit a variety of dietary requirements. Starting with a good, solid kitchen design makes this possible.