TOP TEN: Why Retherm?

In health care foodservice, rethermalization of food has become the norm.

This practice is omnipresent in large hospitality foodservice such as banqueting, catering, and hotels where large numbers of people need to be fed within a short time frame. Technological improvements over the years now allow foodservice operators to use state of the art equipment that delivers quality outcomes every time. In Healthcare Foodservice there are different demands compared to banqueting and hotel catering but many of the benefits are the same.

In Canada, rethermalization of patient meals (whether in bulk or tray formats) is a common practice and it is enhanced by using advanced meal delivery systems that act not only as the rethermalization unit but also as a vehicle to deliver foods. This highly efficient use of specific technology developed for healthcare use is implemented throughout Canada.  According to Statistics Canada there are over 120,000 acute care beds and over 200,000 Long Term care Beds in Canada.  In a recent survey by Burlodge Canada (the leader in advanced meal delivery equipment supply and support in Canada), over 40% of acute care beds are served using rethermalization meal delivery equipment today. In Long Term Care, over 8% of beds are served using this technology. The fastest growing segment today (2009) is in Long Term Care due to the acuity level increasing and the demand for individual tray service within the resident room.

The use of advanced meal delivery systems based on Rethermalization is not decreasing but rather is seen as the only way of operating an efficient foodservice operation within the funding envelope of the Canadian Public Healthcare System. Rethermalization systems offer the following benefits to the Healthcare operator:

1. Rethermalization of patient meals means that food will be re-heated from the cold or frozen state which inherently means that the facility can prepare foods well in advance of meal service. This advanced preparation means that traditional cook serve tray line or dining room staff need not work throughout the day but rather can be scheduled for one shift in a day to prepare the meals in advance. Labor savings akin to advanced cold plating techniques can save upward of 30% in labor compared to traditional cook serve tray lines.

2. Rethermalization of foods means that a cold food inventory must exist and thus, this allows a facility to adopt cook chill food preparation (through cook chill/freeze production or outsourced food procurement). Cold food preparation techniques such as cook chill can save labor costs compared to traditional scratch kitchens by up to 28% due in part to a compressed production schedule as one now prepares food to an inventory rather than have to prepare foods using a  just in time mandate.

3. One of the greatest challenges in today’s healthcare foodservice system is serving hot food hot and cold food cold. Patients may only be in hospitals for 2-3 days and may have reasonable expectations when it comes to food variety but in recent studies it has become more evident that food temperature has become more a driver of patient satisfaction than food quality. Rethermalization of food close to meal service can improve food service temperatures (as opposed to hot holding on a tray line); however it is the use of a rethermalization meal delivery system or an active temperature maintenance system that can make all the difference. Retherm meal delivery systems act as the meal re-heating device as well as the cold temperature holding device all in one. Furthermore, they act as the delivery module and so, hot foods will be served hot and cold foods will be served cold.

4. Retherm equipment can also be used to allow a regional health care group safely re-heat foods at a receptor hospital allowing that hospital to only have to be concerned with the function of retherm and serve. The meals can be prepared off-site in a central kitchen and sent to the receptor hospital in fully trayed (cold) formats or in cold bulk formats.

5. Retherm of food can be done from a frozen state which then allows for greater efficiency by removing thawing and re-panning times thereby reducing labor. In addition, frozen food distribution and retherm further enhances standardization and can help provide menu components across a large region without expending large transportation costs that may be in place in a chilled inventory distribution model (i.e. daily deliveries).

6. Rethermalization of foods can be accomplished by using outsourced food from reputable food manufacturers. By doing this, the facility reaps the benefits of becoming a kitchenless hospital and can enjoy such outcomes as:

a. A guarantee that the professional food manufacturing sector will produce foods that are nutritionally correct, safe, consistent in quality, and of high standard
b. labour efficiencies and savings within the production staff compliment by utilizing outsourced products
c. increasing variety of products produced adding to the possibilities of variety on a menu
d. portion control at the point of purchase thereby decreasing waste
e. increased price flexibility with food purchases due to the removal of a commissary model and its monopolization of Health Care Specific food products
f. increased nutritional information about menu offerings due to the expertise of manufacturing plants and their representative company’s product information sheets
g. increased availability of clinical and special diets allowing the on-site Dietitian to spend more time with residents/patients
h. less space required in a kitchen and thus more space available for other hospital requirements
i. the removal of must manage issues from a production ‘peaks and valleys’ model, allowing a shift from a production orientation to a Service Excellence / Resident Focused Care Model to occur
j. lower maintenance costs and utilities usage in the long run
k. reduced future capital requirements for production equipment
l. a concentration of critical control points pertaining to HACCP shall exist for storage, thawing, and retherm only. This is a huge benefit as new HACCP legislation becomes enacted

7. Rethermalization of food allows the foodservice operator complete control over when meals should be ready for service. This then means that the dietary department can pull from the patient rather than push. The department efficiency becomes the means to add value to the patient and to the ward/nursing department it serves. Equipment today is totally programmable and can even start itself so that a consistent meal time service at each meal can be facilitated.

8. Retherm can take many forms – from microwaves, to conduction, to convection heating. The use of convection heating for retherm will allow the operator the greatest flexibility in food variety (crispy items, dense items, soups, and beverages) and the most variety in traywares.

9. With retherm of food and the inherent chilled food handling process, the facility has a greater food safety process when compared to traditional scratch and/or heat and serve kitchens. With centralisation of retherm, the facility can truly benefit and have ultimate control thereby enhancing risk management. Retherm systems today have integrated HACCP monitoring programs that allow the operator complete control over monitoring and programming his/her fleet of meal delivery equipment. Retherm systems today even have on-board temperature probing and CPU based tracking devices so that historical event data collection on every retherm trolley can be done for due diligence.

10. Retherm of foods is gentle and can enhance the overall appearance of foods while maintaining a greater level of nutrients as compared to traditional heat, hold, and serve techniques. Within the retherm process selection there are also varied results in that convection heating provides more even heating and greater nutrient preservation than microwaving and conduction reheat.