Food allergy awareness and kitchen protocols currently vary widely among hospitals. However, several hospital dietitians and nurses say there are steps a patient or the patient’s family can take to increase meal safety and comfort level.
- If you know you will be staying in the hospital, call ahead and ask to speak to the food service manager. Ask that person what the kitchen processes are and how to make sure you are properly identified as having a severe food allergy, both in the computer system and on your person. Be sure to ask how their products are evaluated for allergens. Do they consider products that may have come into contact with an allergen as containing that food?
- At the hospital, check in with the head nurse about your allergies. If you don’t have a wristband indicating you are an allergy patient, ask if you should have one.
- If the hospital has a room service model, where you order food from a menu, make sure the person on the phone confirms your food allergy. The call center operator and the person delivering your food should also confirm who you are with two identifiers; for example, your name and birthdate.
- If you get a food tray before being asked what you would like to eat, alert staff and don’t eat anything until it has been deemed safe. Likewise, if you notice a problem food on a tray that you did order, do not eat anything until the food service department has been consulted.
- If you feel you need to bring in your own food to eat without reaction risk, ask at the nurse’s station if you can leave food in the fridge, and if there is a microwave you can use. It’s also a good idea to provide feedback to the hospital if you did not find their procedures safe.
Sources: Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, plus hospital staff interviews.