Back to the floor - Food glorious food!

This is my back to the floor blog following my shift in the catering department - for those of you who don't know much about this department here are just a few facts....on both the Chorley and Preston sites we have 187 staff, and serve 5000 meals to staff, patients and visitors every single day. We spend nearly £1.5m a year on buying ingredients.  We make all our own food and we have nine different menus to cater for patients who have different dietary requirements.

  Before the day of my shift they rang me to see what size feet I have because all employees working in this area have to wear steel re-enforced, non-slip shoes. They were duly delivered to my office. Good gracious me, not only are they unattractive but they're heavy too ....I felt as if I was walking in slow motion!

I arrived in Brenda's office to go through my health and safety briefing before being allowed to go on the shop floor; she was extremely thorough. Her purpose was to make sure patients, staff and customers were kept safe and to make sure I knew the importance of every piece of information she gave me. Then the final bit before being let loose was to give me a hair net and a hat - I hope you enjoy the picture because my husband says it's the best I've looked in years (obviously he now walks with a limp).

Karen in Cafe Maison My first job was in Cafe Mason where I worked alongside Skiz, Bev, Carol and Jackie. Cafe Mason is one of three hospital-run facilities at Preston where staff, patients and visitors can buy food to eat in or take out. The team are very caring; seeking opportunities to help patients by taking their food to the table, going out of their way to smile and be friendly because, as they told me, you never know what news a patient has been given or whether they are anxious because they haven't yet been for their appointment. They definitely need something to keep them cool in there because at times it was extremely hot when the fryer, toaster, oven were all going at the same time. It wasn't a huge space for the number of us working there and it was easy to get in each other's way (sorry, I mean I got in their way, they did a great job of avoiding me!) It was difficult to remember all the instructions ..what constituted a full breakfast (don't worry the customers put me right if I short-changed anyone with too little toast or a sausage short of the quota!) which knife to use for bread, which one for meat, which chopping board for what?! All the things you think you know until the pressure is on and you're faced with a queue of hungry people with very little time till they have to be back on duty. The pace was really fast; no sooner had breakfast finished then it was time to get everything ready for lunch, salads to prepare, things to go in the oven, things to come out of the oven. I was shattered! Just as things were beginning to quieten down and I had just got my first cup of coffee and beginning to get over burning a batch of toast Brenda arrived to whiz me off to my next job on the patients meal production line.


Inside catering The next hour and a half was a tad stressful; Brenda had drilled into me the importance of getting the production line right and had explained the impact of not being in sync with the team. If I created any delays and the food was delayed in being transported to the patient then there could be a potential impact on the patient not to mention the delay at the end of the session in getting all the washing up done. The process is so tight they have worked out everything to ensure efficient and effective practice. No pressure there then; all I could think of was the old nursery rhyme 'for want of a nail, the shoe was lost etc....!' My role was to warm the plates and put them on the table to my right so that the head of the production line could place them on trays with the patients menus and shout the order down the line. I did have someone working alongside me to make sure if I slipped up they could step in and keep things going which pleased me no end! Imagine if you will the following: the kitchen is very noisy and I am at the head of the line with special plate warmers that go onto a sort of two-ringed induction hob, they are placed there for 30 seconds to heat and when the red light goes out a plate is placed on each and then they are placed in front of the production line leader. There is a 10 feet long narrow table and on either side is a catering assistant with a large hot mobile food trolley to serve from to his/her left and each side has 3 or 4 further staff behind them. The chefs are running backwards and forwards because they don't make all the food at once - they stagger the production so that the last batch of food produced is as hot, tasty and fresh as the first. The production line staff take very seriously their roles; obviously we have lots of patients on special diets and can't have salt or other things because of their clinical conditions.

As soon as a mistake was made the individual spoke up to say that they had used the wrong gravy or put the wrong thing on the plate and the team started that meal again. No fuss, no shouting, no problem. When the meals for each ward is complete they are transported on trolleys to the patients. It's a different system in Chorley but I'll tell you about that when I've been there!

The chefs and staff make a huge effort to ensure the food looks tasty and presentable. We have quite a number of patients on pureed diets which in essence is everything that other patients are having but simply liquidised. In a bowl on its own it looks unappetising which is why our chefs put the puree into moulds so that pureed chicken is put in a mould shaped like a chicken portion, and vegetables are put in moulds that make it look like cauliflower, carrots or potatoes. We all know that the enjoyment of a meal includes how it looks as well as how it tastes!

When the last meal had been sent to the wards/departments I was asked if I would like to try the food we had served and those of you who know me will know that I never refuse food so I had a portion of everything and I can truly tell you that it was excellent; our chefs are second to none. Mind you after 4 main courses and 2 puds my uniform didn't fit quite as well as it did at the start of the shift and I'm sure those ruddy shoes were heavier to walk in!

In less than 90 minutes we had served 750 patients, cleared up the kitchens and waited for the returns. It was interesting to watch this part of the process too, some plates came back untouched which was probably more to do with the patients clinical condition or lack of appetite, some plates were half eaten (clearly didn't have my Mum who, if we left food, would serve the same plate up for the next meal and if it still wasn't eaten - we invariably got it for the 3rd meal - it always got eaten then and funnily enough me and my two sisters have never left food on a plate since!) There were, however, lots of plates that came back with nothing left at all. Brenda was telling me how they review wastage to see if there are any trends in which case they look at the menu and change it. She told me that they do try to personally engage with some patients who are in hospital for long periods of time to ensure we can find food that they enjoy eating. Brenda also told me that we buy 300 dozen forks and spoons every 6 months and they keep going missing! What can we possibly be doing with them?! I also met the staff who do all the important back office work - each role is so vital to the smooth running of every department.

I met great, dedicated and talented people during my shift and with so many of them working there I can't possibly name them all - but they know who they are! So what can I do to help? Well one of the areas to look at is Cafe Mason because they don't have any mixer taps which can be a problem sometimes and we'll see if we can do something about the heat in that small area.  I know there's some refurbishment going on to replace dishwashers, cookers and boilers.

Finally, can I please have the recipe for your pastry? It's stonkingly good and I'd love to be able to replicate it!

Huge thanks for having me and making me feel part of your team

Karen Partington