Red flags could be raised in facilities across the country tomorrow when the preliminary results of the nation’s first aged care food service survey are officially presented to the sector at the Aged and Community Services Australia’s National Conference in Hobart.
While many providers fared well in the University of Queensland survey, there were others which clearly lacked a general understanding of the various essential elements of food service, like food fortification and portion control.
The PhD student who conducted the survey, Karen Abbey, said the preliminary results showed that some staff had experienced difficulty filling in the survey because they did not understand key food service terms.
“I think there is a bit of an education gap in terms of the basic foundation of how to run food services,” Ms Abbey said.
“People did not really understand portion control. The other area [they did not seem to understand] was food fortification, in terms of how we fortify foods to provide additional nutrition without changing the volume of the meal.
“This is actually an important tool when you are looking at a frail aged population.”
The study which began in January this year, aimed to initially look at how menus are developed in facilities nation-wide so that gaps in food service practices could be located and then adequately addressed. It examined food service down to its fine print, covering more than 300 variable points.
Ms Abbey, who is also a qualified dietician working at Nambucca Valley Care, said that the results raised the question of “who runs food services” in facilities across Australia.
“Not everyone has a chef available so you have people with varying cooking skills running food services–from a chef to a food services manager to a director of care,” she said.
“I found this quite interesting because of the ramifications it has in terms of how food services align with what they are supposed to be delivering in the facility.”
Ms Abbey recommended that more support and education in the area of food service is needed, with particular attention to be paid on menu design.
“We have certainly got a lot of work to do. I think it’s wonderful for a facility to have chefs in place and I think that it’s great to get the food to the plate. But, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to look at what happens from the time that the food gets to the plate to when it gets to the resident. Is the resident actually eating it?
“If not, it may not be because the meal is not well presented or that it was not cooked properly. There are other issues to do with portion sizes, the frailty of residents and eating environments. Staff being able to have the time to feed residents is also absolutely essential.”
Food service, she said, is not just about what chefs do. Neither should it be just about meeting the requirements of food safety regulations.
“It’s about more than just cooking a meal. Food service encompasses everything we do from the dining room, to making sure that the resident eats their meal, to monitoring what’s actually happening to residents who aren’t consuming their food. It’s also about then having strategies in place to actually deal with [residents who are not eating] when this situation occurs.
“We need to meet food safety guidelines but we must also to ensure that the resident is actually consuming the foods that we cook and that they are being well nourished every day.”
The results thus far also showed that “in-house cooked fresh” is the preferred production method; that the typical menu cycle for a facility is about four weeks; most facilities have a summer and winter menu; most are menus are planned using resident committees or resident focus groups; and that biscuits are one of the most popular mid-meal snacks.
Ms Abbey said that although the conclusions made to-date offer a general snapshot of the survey’s results, further analysis will take place in the near future.