In hospitals, washing crockery and cutlery is not just about meeting demand: speed and efficiency must be balanced against high standards of hygiene, cleanliness, cost and carbon footprint in terms of energy and water usage
Mark Nicholls HHE Reporter
Hospital catering departments feed thousands of patients, staff and visitors every day. This involves kitchen and catering staff preparing and cooking meals to a high standard and then getting them to canteens, restaurants or wards at set mealtimes throughout the day.
But a critical, and often unsung, aspect of this is the team and the machinery that ensures all crockery and cutlery is thoroughly cleaned in time for the next round of meals.
In a healthcare setting there are significant considerations to take into account.
It is a case of balancing speed and efficiency with high standards of hygieneand cleanliness, cost and carbon footprint in terms of energy emission and water usage.
In addition, with the tightened infection control procedures now in place across hospitals because of the heightened threat of infections such as MRSA, Clostridium difficile or the norovirus bug, the role of washing the dishes for the hospital canteen and catering service becomes a critical, but hidden, aspect of the efficient and effective daily workings of a hospital.
Choosing the dishwashing machinery that is right for the hospital is vital in ensuring the smooth running of any healthcare catering operation.
Trevor Chacksfield is facilities manager at Weston General Hospital at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, UK.
He said: “It is very important that the system is effective and reliable due to infection control issues. Hygiene regulations must be adhered to at all times before speed and efficiency.”
Patients are served meals three times a day at the 320-bed hospital. To wash dishes and cutlery from this, the facilities team has 15 FXD400 dishwashing machines from Hobart. All are staff loaded with a plate rack, cup rack and cutlery basket in each.
With hygiene issues paramount, Mr Chacksfield said that having machinery that was reliable and operated at correct temperatures was vital in helping combat the threat of hospital-acquired infection.
He also stressed the importance of having a regular maintenance contract to ensure quality control and reliability levels were maintained.
Machines are upgraded when required, with key factors when looking at future systems being “reliability, correct operating temperatures and running costs,” he said, along with energy-saving features and water and detergent usage levels.
The hospital also has the busy Rafters Restaurant open daily from 8.30am to 7.30pm and used by visitors, patients and staff.
Last year, it replaced the dishwashing system there with a ClasseqAlto170 rack machine, capable of washing 170 racks an hour.
“We chose the ClasseqAlto 170 rack machine for its reliability, economy and ease of use,” said Mr Chacksfield.
With energy-saving features, autotimer and a self-draining wash pump, it has a full-coverage filter system that keeps wash water clearer for longer, producing cleaner plates, less water changes and lower fuel bills.
“It is far more reliable than our old machine,”said Mr Chacksfield. “Plus it is very efficient and easy to keep clean, which is very important in a hospital environment.”
New models of dishwasher are continually being developed to feature water and energy saving technology.
For large institutions, flight dishwashers can have the capacity to deal with anything from 3,000 to 7,000 pieces of crockery an hour.
Loading items directly onto the flight belt instead of into a dishwasher basket stops double handling. Hi-tech programmes are available to ensure that all items are washed correctly: with water heated to the correct temperature; a precise balance of dishwashing chemicals; and the correct contact time between the items being washed and detergent and water.
New trolley dishwashers are up to 80% more efficient in energy-saving costs than some earlier models and feature an electronic control system that monitors the washing process. The Wexiödisk WD-18CW trolley dishwasher, for example, has a centrifugal process between the chemical washing process and the final rinsing phase, resulting in total water consumption as low as six litres per wash cycle.
Models now also feature heat recovery systems that result in lower energy consumption, while a dual final rinse can lead to reduced consumption of water, electricity and chemicals.
At Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust in the south of England, UK, some 230 catering staff deliver 6,000 meals a day to patients, staff and visitors over two sites. Patient meals are served at Southampton General Hospital (SGH) and Princess Anne Hospital (PAH) at breakfast, lunch and supper, and there are also two “eaterie” restaurants at each hospital.
Overseeing that operation is Head of Catering Stella Gardener, who is acutely aware of the need for equipment that is efficient, economical and reliable. The solution was provided using Wexiödisk machines in an all-in-one installation.
At SGH there are 22 ward dishwashers to wash up glasses, water cups and beverage cups used by patients, while at PAH all the dishwashing is done at ward level. In addition, at SGH there is one large semiautomated dishwasher to wash up for patient meals. The restaurants have flight dishwashers plus a rack dishwasher, while the kitchen has a flight pot wash machine.
Mrs Gardener said: “The main machine at SGH is semiautomated and made up of two machines: a crockery and cutlery machine and a separate tray washer.
“The tray washer is fully automated, and we have two sizes of tray and these are split out at the end of the operation into two different tray lowerators, depending on their size.
“The plate washer needs one person to feed plates in and one person to take off clean at the end. Prior to this there is a handling system that takes the crockery to the loader.”
The number of staff involved in the dishwashing operation depends on the meal service, but generally it is five at breakfast and six for lunch and supper.
The hospital catering department has the ability to wash 1,000 covers every hour and a half, which makes it crucial for the machinery to be reliable and the system effective and meet the needs of the hospital.
Mrs Gardener said that hygiene standard issues are covered because all the machines are programmed to meet thermo-disinfection targets. “This is a combination of heat and time, or this can be overcome by using a sanitising rinse said,” she explained.
There is an important quality control element at Southampton, with cutlery the area where most complaints may arise. “We have a separate cutlery picker, which puts it through a polisher, and there is also a visual check as well,” she added.
While the current system in use at Southampton has an estimated further five years of life, Mrs Gardener said that, when choosing to update the equipment, areas such as the levels of automation, speed, reliability, number of personnel
needed to operate it, heat exchanger capability and water recycling would be items under close scrutiny.
It may be the less glamorous side of a hospital’s activities, but keeping the plates clean with an effective dishwashing system is a matter of no small importance.