Like many other dining operations across the country, Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, Minn., has had to cope with a growing number of diners reporting allergies to various foods. Initially, this was dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but now there’s a more solid solution: the purple station.
The purple station is a separate prep area in the hospital kitchen with its own equipment and tools to minimize risk of cross-contamination while allowing allergen-free meals to be prepared efficiently. It’s called the purple station because purple is the industry standard color designating allergen-free food production.
The station serves mostly patients, though it could also be used to accommodate retail diners as dining services staff in the small hospital—there are 162 licensed beds with an average daily census of around 70—regularly serve both ends.
In the River Grille cafeteria, menu boards list any allergens contained in the various items on the menu that day and that generally satisfies retail customers with food allergy issues, says Denise Cleveland, director of nutrition and environmental services for Essentia Health-St. Joseph Medical Center.
“If we had to for a specific cafeteria customer we could go back and use [the purple station] but in the café we’re just identifying items on our menu if they are gluten free or contain soy or eggs or things like that and then let the customer decide,” she says.
The purple station is a small area away from the other production spaces, with a table about five feet in length. It has a dedicated induction burner, toaster, pans designed for induction cooking and cooking utensils with purple handles used in that area only. It also stocks specialty products like gluten-free breads and has its own purple meal delivery cart.
“We take every precaution to keep the food separate from the rest of our meals,” Cleveland says.
Training needs were minimal as procedures haven’t changed other than being transferred to a separate area. Staff has undergone allergen awareness training to stress why it’s important to prevent cross-contamination.
Essentia-St. Joseph offers room service dining from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., averaging between 150 and 200 meals served daily, and demand for allergen-free meals is not huge, only a couple a day, says Cleveland.
Previously, a special request for an allergen-free meal required a staffer to stop, change his apron and gloves, wash up, then clean the work area and secure uncontaminated cookware and tools. Now, workers still change their covering to fresh, uncontaminated ones and wash up, but the dedicated work area removes the need to prepare the space each time a special meal has to be made.
“It was sort of driven by an efficiency,” Cleveland says. “We felt it would be nice if we had a separate work station and we also felt it would be in the best interests of our patients to keep it separate and prevent any cross-contamination. I had been reading that colleges and other facilities had been creating these separate work areas, so I thought why not apply it in our space.”
The investment was minimal, about $2,500. “It just came together and wasn’t a huge investment of dollars,” she notes.
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]