503-726-5927 info@incitesp.com

Excellent food preparation and service are at the forefront for every dining team. However, teams in long-term care (LTC) face additional challenges, such as catering to various diets, meeting nutritional requirements, and keeping residents and staff safe.

Ethan Davidsohn, Senior Manager of Culinary Engagement at Incite Strategic Partners, has worked in various kitchens throughout his career, always keeping safety top of mind. “The kitchen is a dangerous place, and the more we can focus on using proper protocols, the better we can serve residents.”

Why Safety Should Be Top of Mind in Senior Living

Across the country, nursing homes are downsizing and limiting admissions due to staffing shortages. With limited individuals available to work in LTC, it’s essential to make sure dining staff members avoid injury at work.

“Good labor is tough to find. We need to keep employees healthy, safe, and free from injury so they can continue to come to work,” notes Davidsohn. “We also want employees to enjoy life outside of work and come back refreshed and recharged — and they can’t do that if they are injured.”

Resident safety is also a big concern in the LTC dining room. Older adults have a higher risk of contracting foodborne illnesses because their immune systems aren’t as robust as they used to be. “Most residents have a weakened immune system. This makes proper food preparation and temperature logging all the more important,” notes Davidsohn.

Improving Your Existing Safety Practices

Odds are your dining staff already has safety protocols in place. But sometimes employees can become very comfortable in a work environment that still poses some danger. 

Davidsohn uses the example of an experienced chef. “Generally, chefs love what they do and have been cooking for a long time. They may not even think of a knife as dangerous because they use it daily and rarely cut themselves. Bringing awareness to these hazards with reminders and occasional retraining can prevent accidents.”

Davidsohn says he has seen gamification used successfully in kitchens to draw attention to safety and promote team engagement. “Using a visual chart to mark days in a row without injury can make it fun. Maybe give your dining team an incentive to reach a certain safety goal. Before you know it, the dining staff is watching out for each other and prioritizing safety because they are all working toward a common goal.”

Facilitating daily or weekly meetings that focus on safety is a great practice to implement. It can be a few minutes where your team gathers in the middle or at the beginning of the day. 

“Have a safety topic prepared for that week or day. The topic may be proper food storage or burn prevention. You can also encourage your team to share any personal experiences with the topic you’re focusing on. Those real-life examples can be impactful and tend to stick with people longer,” Davidsohn says.

Nurturing a Safety-First Culture

For team leads and dining managers, Davidsohn says leading by example is the first step that needs to be taken to foster a safety-first culture in the kitchen. “You can’t expect the people you’re leading to prioritize safety for themselves and the residents they serve if you don’t practice it yourself,” he says. “Also, make sure your team has the tools they need to stay safe, such as temp logs and personal protective equipment. They can’t stay safe if they aren’t given the right resources and trained to use them properly.”

In addition to leading by example and ensuring your staff has the tools they need, Davidsohn says working safety into the interview process is an impactful practice. 

“Work it into conversation while interviewing potential employees. Ask them what their view is on safety in the kitchen. Reiterate that they are going to be working in a safe environment. Establish those safety-first expectations from day one,” he explains.