More than four in five Victorian public sector residential aged care homes and hospitals are compliant with the state’s nutrition standards but only three in five are hitting the mark on texture-modified meals, a conference on public health and nutrition has heard.

The Victorian Department of Health review examined the nutritional value and quality of foods and drinks including variety and cultural diversity at 327 government-run aged care and public hospital sites.

About 9 per cent of aged care homes nationally are run by state governments but Victoria has the highest proportion, accounting for 159 of the state’s 766 homes (21 per cent), according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data at 30 June 2020.

The review involved online surveys for each site exploring food service systems, menu planning processes and practices and compliance related to site food standards and guidelines.

It also involved site visits including to 13 aged care facilities to tour kitchens, collect case studies, observe food services and undertake semi-structured interviews, and interviews with 49 aged care residents from 10 randomly selected homes about their views of the food service.

Victorian Department of Health public health nutritionist Kelly Neville said the review identified that most sites met the nutrition standards.

“Overall, there was a high degree of compliance with the existing nutrition standards. Around 80 per cent of health services compliant,” Ms Neville told the Dietitians Australia 2021 Conference on Monday.

However, compliance was lower for texture modified meals, where only 61 per cent of sites presented these dishes in appealing ways, Ms Neville said.

Elsewhere the review found most sites offered two vegetarian meals for lunch and dinner (75 per cent) but fewer sites offered vegan (67 per cent), kosher (48 per cent) and halal meals (46 per cent).

The review, which also looked at procurement practices,  found great examples of innovation in providing good-quality food, she said.

“We saw quite a lot of innovation in food service, [where] some health services used cook freeze and starting to employ digital bedside ordering systems.”

However, only a third of sites offered meals from a range of cuisines for lunch and dinner daily (33 per cent), she said.

“This was quite limited in this specific type of cultural cuisine so this may be an area for improvement,” Ms Neville said.

The majority of rural and regional health services procure fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and bread from their region or other parts of Victoria (89 per cent), according to the review.

Around 26 per cent to 48 per cent of canned, frozen and dried fruit and vegetables purchased come from overseas, which is an area for improvement, Ms Neville said.

To further improve nutrition and the quality of food in these sites, the Victorian nutrition standards should be updated, Ms Neville said.

“These new standards will have a focus on cultural diversity and food quality and consumer patient consultation, not just nutrition,” she said.

The review also recommended supporting aged care services with grants to enhance mealtime environments, such as installing small kitchens with bain-maries in dining rooms to offer bistro-style meals, vegetable gardens and inviting family and visitors to dine with residents.

Other recommendation include skilling aged care and hospital workers in inclusive food service, Ms Neville said

The Dietitians Australia 2021 Conference took place on 11 – 13 July.

Access the review.

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