Food safety in hospitals should be of the utmost importance because their populations are at a higher risk of developing a foodborne illness. “Patients may be elderly, have a chronic disease, or take medications that compromise their immune system, making it harder for them to fight an infection if they consume contaminated food,” says Sharon McDonald, MEd, RD, LDN, senior extension educator/food safety specialist, Penn State Extension, University Park, Pa.
Chemotherapy patients in particular are at risk for foodborne illness because in addition to destroying cancer cells, this cancer treatment attacks healthy cells—especially those that divide quickly such as bone marrow, which produces red and white blood cells and platelets. “With fewer white blood cells, which fight infection, it becomes more difficult to ward off harmful microorganisms that can cause illness and to fight off illness if it occurs,” McDonald says.
Ted Flood, CDM, director of food and nutrition, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, Mass., says chemotherapy patients are put on special diets, which exclude uncooked fruits and vegetables—which are more prone to harmful bacteria.
At University of Wisconsin Health, Madison, Wis., Liz Reynolds, MS, RDN, culinary education specialist, says the institution has administrative policies in place that govern its food safety procedures and operations. “We are routinely inspected by local and state regulatory authorities, like any food service establishment,” she says. Hospital inspection agencies such as The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and The Joint Commission regularly conduct inspections.
McDonald says hospital food service departments have policies and procedures that address food safety, such as recording a food’s final cooking temperature, monitoring refrigeration temperatures, monitoring temperatures of food before and after service, cleaning and sanitizing procedures for equipment, and monitoring temperatures in dishwashing machines.
Flood says daily checklists, monitoring patient traylines, and completing tray accuracy reports help keep patients safe. Quality audits—conducted by an outside firm—ensure that food service workers follow food safety standards.
About Karen Appold
Karen Appold is an award-winning journalist based in Lehigh Valley, Pa. She has a BA in English (writing) from Penn State University and has more than 20 years of editorial experience. Karen has been a full-time freelance medical writer and editor since 2003. She works for various medical organizations, businesses, and media. Karen has also worked in a variety capacities, including newspaper reporter, editor of a daily newspaper, and editor of a monthly magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.