A recent article in FM garnered some feedback from readers: a foodservice manager at the University of Richmond has been experimenting with different ways of answering the question: “What if we couldn’t serve eggs for breakfast?”
Since the avian flu hit the Midwest earlier this year, egg prices have been rising, especially liquid eggs, which are a major player for noncommercial foodservice, even more so during breakfast, where egg sandwiches, omelets and baked goods dominate the menu. Healthcare foodservice teams must consider the needs of patients, as well.
The epidemic has caused “a reversal of protein economics,” according to data from the USDA, making this the first time on record that eggs are more expensive on a protein-per-dollar basis than chicken breasts.
Here are a few ways operators in healthcare foodservice are facing up to the problem and attempting to answer the “what if” questions about eggs as a commodity:
Teresa Beach, RD, LN, CDE, director of nutrition and food service, Sanford Medical Center, Sioux Falls, S.D.:
“We have been experiencing egg and egg product shortages for about six weeks now. At first the shortages were minor, but they have increased significantly. We have allocations from our distributor based on past usage and at this time are not getting any of the allocations. We are a 450-bed hospital with 50-bed heart and children’s hospitals on campus. To ensure we have eggs available for patients, we have limited and/or eliminated eggs in our cafeterias and physicians center.
“We’ve been able to increase our non-egg selections, such as biscuits and gravy, and we’re using a frozen French toast product instead of making our own, purchasing egg patties from a different vendor instead of making breakfast sandwiches with fresh eggs. We serve pancakes more often made with blueberry, whole wheat or sunflower and offering toppings, too. We’ve increased our breakfast parfait area to accommodate more sales on both our build-your-own and premade parfaits. Also, we’ve been highlighting our oatmeal and offering different toppings as well.
“We are still able to offer eggs in the cafeterias one to two times a week. We’ve had difficulty getting pasteurized shell eggs, but we’ve been able to get unpasteurized shell eggs, so we’ve utilized those as hard-boiled eggs in the cafeterias at times. Our marketing department created marketing materials for us to post in all of our retail areas to explain the variations in the menu, and at times not having eggs at all. At this point we have not had to discontinue any eggs for patients. We have great communication with our vendor and are to each week assess the egg availability and revise menus accordingly. Our customers have been very understanding of the changes, and we really haven’t seen much of decline in our sales.”
Linda D. Mack, MS, RDN, LD, director of food and nutrition services, West Georgia Health, LaGrange, Ga.:
“Since we are healthcare, the breakfast meats are not good alternatives as they all tend to be high in sodium and saturated fat. We will probably look at some nut butters to increase the amount of protein at breakfast with PB&J on toast, bagels with pimento cheese and English muffins with cheese and lower sodium bacon.
“I’m holding my breath regarding chicken and turkey availability. Both are major components of our menus. Our GPO seems to be helping us get these products for the foreseeable future at least. If the time comes that we cannot get poultry, then we will increase vegetable protein alternates such as beans and rice, tofu stir-fries and cheese casseroles.
“I’ve posted information in the cafeteria alerting our customers and employees to the shortages. When I do group classes, I’m alerting the participants that they may want to purchase their Thanksgiving turkey now. This doesn’t seem to have reached the mainstream media or many people, at least in this area.”
Susan Glessner, MS, RD, LDN, director of food and nutrition, UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, Pittsburgh:
“UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside was initially informed of the seriousness of the egg shortage in early June by one of our prime vendors. In July, our vendor’s egg supplier communicated that they could no longer honor the requirements of their contract due to a dissipating supply base of processed eggs. Recent communication from our GPO is that the shortage of purchased eggs is expected to extend 18 to 24 months. There is also a very real possibility that the Eastern shell egg production will be impacted in the fall.
“In light of that information, food and nutrition management at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside decided to re-engineer the retail menu, reducing dependency on all forms of eggs. We communicated to our associates and visitors the need to focus egg purchases to meet the needs of our patients first.
“All egg products were removed from our retail breakfast menu at the end of June, except for prepared breakfast sandwiches. We no longer serve scrambled eggs, omelets or freshly grilled eggs in any of our five retail operations, and we removed hard-boiled eggs from our salad bar. We do offer a fruit and yogurt bar in the morning, along with hot cereals, pancakes, waffles, French toast, breakfast meats and a wide array of breakfast breads.
“The patient menu has not been impacted to date, as eggs are a valuable source of nutrition for many of the modified diets. We did opt to remove scrambled eggs from our non-select menu for patients, replacing them with another breakfast choice. We are particularly vigilant in monitoring the production volume and waste of egg products for the patient menu.”