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Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Nutrition Services team takes innovative approach to food allergies

Food allergies are a fact of life for many people -- whether it's peanuts, gluten or seafood. Reactions to food allergies vary, but some can be life-threatening. In an effort focused on safety, the Nutrition Services team at Essentia Health-St. J...

Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center Cook Faith Fageroos works next to the specially designated allergy cart used to deliver meals to patients. Submitted Photo
Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center Cook Faith Fageroos works next to the specially designated allergy cart used to deliver meals to patients. Submitted Photo

Food allergies are a fact of life for many people - whether it's peanuts, gluten or seafood. Reactions to food allergies vary, but some can be life-threatening. In an effort focused on safety, the Nutrition Services team at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center has created a separate food preparation area in its kitchen for patients and visitors with food allergies.

"We've been doing this for about a month," said Denise Cleveland, director of Nutrition and Environmental Services. "Food allergies are a topic always in the news. We learned that other facilities around the country were creating food stations to make food safe, especially for those who are on gluten-free diets. We worked with our cooking team, purchased additional equipment and created our purple allergy station."

The purple station is where the Nutrition Services staff prepare items for patients who have food allergies.

"By having a separate station, we ensure that there is no cross contamination," Cleveland said. Purple is the color designated as the industry standard identifying equipment used specifically for food allergies.

This focus on our values of quality and hospitality also fits into Essentia's goal of being the best place to receive care by meeting the needs of the patients we serve.

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Here's how the allergy station works: When the cook receives a meal order that has a specific food allergy, he stops production on the regular food line, takes off his apron and gloves and washes his hands. Then, he puts on new gloves and a new apron and works specifically on the purple allergy station.

The station is equipped with its own cutting boards, knives, utensils, pans and a toaster as well as a separate burner. There's even a separate cart for the meals being delivered to the hospital's floors.

"Once the meal has been completed, we make sure all the equipment used to prepare the meals at the allergy station is kept separate from the other equipment. It is kept in a covered container and washed separately," Cleveland said.

"Our staff feel very proud that we are offering a best-practice to our patients related to food allergies," Cleveland said. "Allergies have become such a prevalent issue. We are trying to be very careful and conscientious about preparing food in the safest manner for our patients."

When the meals are delivered, the host explains that the food has been prepared especially to meet the patient's food preference.

"The feedback so far has been positive. I think people realize how seriously we are taking this issue and how much we care," Cleveland said.

In the River Grille, the hospital's cafeteria, there is also a focus on food safety. Menu boards clearly identify which items contain allergens so customers can make informed food choices.

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Cook Coordinator Sam Nesheim prepares a meal on the purple allergy station in the kitchen at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center. Submitted Photo
Cook Coordinator Sam Nesheim prepares a meal on the purple allergy station in the kitchen at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center. Submitted Photo

Related Topics: ESSENTIA HEALTH
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