With all of the effort you go through to maintain food safety, you could be leaving residents vulnerable by not addressing food brought in by family and friends. While each community is responsible for creating their own policy to meet regulations, below are some general guidelines to consider for developing an “outside foods” policy.
Decide on storage. Each community should consider designating pantry space and fridges solely for residents’ outside foods. Good locations include the activity room, the dining room service area or in residents’ rooms.
Label everything. Labeling outside food is an important step in keeping items safe and avoiding confusion. Each label should include: the resident’s name, the common name of the food and the date it must be consumed by. Keep labels and markers near the resident-designated fridges and pantries to make labeling easy.
Designate who can discard food when. Clearly outline who can throw food away and under what conditions. Review what’s in the pantries and fridges at least twice a week. In terms of discarding, follow the manufacturer’s storage recommendation or an appropriate timeframe based on the consume-by date. Educate staff, residents, friends and family on the protocols you establish and safe food-handling requirements so everyone is informed and aligned.
Maintain a safe temperature. Each fridge should have an internal-calibrated food service thermometer to monitor the temperature. Designated staff should document the temperature at least once a day to ensure it is in accordance with federal, state/provincial and/or municipal standards. Hang a chart on the fridge and make a daily recording of the date, time, temperature and have each entry signed by the person documenting it.
A corrective action plan should be outlined in case the temperature is ever found to be unsafe, and should include discarding the food in the fridge and reporting it as faulty to a supervisor and the maintenance department.
Coordinate a cleaning schedule. Resident-designated fridges should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized at least once a month. Assign staff to this task and train them on how to do it. Supervise their first few attempts to ensure everything is done to protocol and provide feedback as necessary.
Monitor for texture-modified foods and thickened fluids. Are the food and beverages being brought in the appropriate texture and consistency for the intended resident? In your outside food policy, outline who is responsible for monitoring this and who people can turn to for education on the subject.
Consider food allergies. If a resident has a food allergy, it may be best for them to have a fridge in their room to store outside foods. This helps minimize the risk of cross-contamination. You may also need to inform friends and family of the resident’s allergy so they can prepare meals that won’t cause a reaction.
Establish rules for sharing. Relatives of a resident may wish to bring in an edible item, such as birthday cake, to share with their loved one’s dining mates. Clearly outline if your community allows such sharing with other residents. If sharing is allowed, consider keeping labeled food samples in case of foodborne illness.
Mandate a policy monitor. Denote a designated supervisor to monitor your outside food program. Their responsibilities should include conducting regular audits to monitor adherence to the procedures outlined, ensure all related education is completed by staff and family members, cleaning and sanitizing is completed on schedule, etc.
Share your policy with family and friends. Openly communicate your outside food policy at admission. Share that it was created to keep their loved one safe and delve into the details so everyone’s clear on what they can and can’t do with regard to bringing in food.