Posted on Monday, 20th July, 2020
Unilever Food Solutions has recently spoken with several Aged Care food service providers, Chefs and specialists to find out how they have been coping with COVID-19 restrictions, and what they are doing now to keep residents healthy and safe.
Contented Chef, a catering organisation in Queensland, has been supplying meals to Aged Care from Brisbane to Townsville for over 6 years. Currently, Contended Chef has a 900-bed roster and throughout the COVID-19 shutdown they have continued to serve all their customers without disruption.
We spoke to the General Manager Steven Grey about how he maintained a seamless service and kept his entire staff employed during the crisis, and how he sees the future as everyone adjusts post COVID-19.
Fortunately for both Contented Chef and its customers, the company realised very early that it had to be proactive and ensure the health and safety of staff and customers.
Steven started by very quickly re-organising his staff and kitchen processes to make sure the service was able to continue even if there was an incident of COVID-19 within the organisation.
Admin staff were moved off-site to work remotely or from home and kitchen staff rosters were split into two ‘teams’ who were isolated from each other at all times. If one team was affected due to infection, they still had a full team able to continue to produce the volume and quality of food needed. Fogging machines were used to clean the kitchens between shifts to further reduce potential contamination risk.
The next step Contented Chef took was to secure to the extent possible an uninterrupted supply of ingredients. As borders, airports, and seaports started closing, fresh produce was in short supply. Steven anticipated further delays to food supplies and began to stockpile and substitute fresher and imported ingredients for those with a longer shelf life. Menus were reduced and adapted to accommodate the changes in ingredients as well as to make meal production more reliable and predictable for both his team and for Contented Chef’s customers.
Steven also looked at supporting other local businesses by purchasing locally and from as many different businesses as possible. For example, he used many of the local butchers for fresh meat orders, thus spreading the load to prevent buying a single business out of an item, as well as ensuring everyone was getting something to help keep them going - it was a win-win for everyone.
The instability of food supplies was also an issue for Peter Pause from Life Care in Adelaide.
“At the start of the COVID-19 I stocked up on menu items so that if full lockdown was to happen, I had enough stock to get us through about 2-3 weeks' worth of meals. We are lucky to have the cool room/freezer space to store it all. We still have small issues of supply of food items as the suppliers are still having issues in getting all stock in.”
Peter is concerned some ingredients will be discontinued by suppliers where certain foods remain unavailable due to closed borders and interruption to international trade.
Other adjustments made at Life Care were mandatory temperature checks for all kitchen staff and strict rules about who was able to enter the facility and the kitchen area.
“We really have not changed too much in the kitchen as we are very strict on who comes into the main kitchen but we now make sure all kitchen staff are temperature checked at the start of each shift, and are healthy. We make sure all kitchen staff wash and put alcohol sanitizer on their hands every time they enter the kitchen, and we are limiting who comes in the kitchen.”
In terms of how they managed the lockdown within the facility, Peter said they kept residents confined to their ‘house’ (Lifecare have 6 houses) and ceased any inter-house activities. This way they were able to keep residents engaged and social without risking an outbreak.
Going forward Peter says
“We will be a lot stricter on who comes into the kitchen. The other concern is sourcing food items. We are looking at having a very flexible menu to create meals with the food items we can get in.”
We also spoke with Liz Goldsmith from Blue Cross in Victoria. One of the biggest issues across many of Blue Cross’ facilities was that of residents missing the food that friends and relatives regularly brought with them when they visited. The staff at Blue Cross found that they needed to get in some specific food items such as Magnum ice-creams, yoghurts, cheeses and soft drinks!
At the June meeting of The Lantern Project, many of the participants of the online collaborative meeting expressed similar stories. Overall, the Aged Care sector has been very proactive in making sure their facilities are doing everything they can to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved: carers, residents, kitchen staff and food service staff.
One of the biggest menu trends during the COVID-19 lockdown was the return to comfort food in order to help residents cope with the changes. Many facilities reported adjusting their menus to include more traditional meals on their menus, so residents felt nurtured and cared for in the absence of contact with family and friends.