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AHF Session Focuses on Sustainability

Many foodservice operators would like to think that becoming more sustainable is as simple as buying local or organic produce. During a general session at the Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF) Convention in Phoenix, Janine Oberstadt, founder and principal of sustainability consulting firm foodprint, challenged this line of thought and encouraged the healthcare foodservice professionals in attendance to broaden their perspective.

Oberstadt's message was clear: Sustainability is more than buying locally grown or organic food. It is about long-term benefit of the planet, the company and its suppliers. "The goal is to consider all of the legs of the stool equally," she said.

"The biggest part of the cost is actually in the operator's hands in the form of energy and water usage," Oberstadt said. "So if you have not had an energy or water audit done on your foodservice operation in a while, I suggest getting one."

Still, many foodservice operators, including those in the healthcare segment, are looking to source more of their ingredients locally. When doing so, though, it is important to be aware of some of the ways this approach can impact the way a foodservice operation functions. "You may have to change your menu procedures. For example, you may not be able to serve strawberries 12 months a year," Oberstadt said.

And sourcing product locally can impact the way a foodservice operation deploys labor. "It has become more vegetable prep-intensive among the operators I have talked to," said Oberstadt. She later added that some operators require more refrigeration when buying locally or more sustainable produce.

Food safety is another key concern among operators when buying locally. Oberstadt pointed to research her firm conducted with many foodservice operators that showed purchasing locally grown produce did not pose a food safety risk that was any greater than when taking delivery from other suppliers. Still, operators should remain vigilant when it comes to ensuring their ingredients are safe.

"In the past, we relied on our suppliers to do the due diligence for us. We just ordered the product from a catalog or their website," Oberstadt said. "We just don't give a lot of thought as to whether that product arriving at our back door is tainted. Now, we have to do that due diligence ourselves. This is not just business as usual. We are pioneering."

And it seems as if the pioneering nature of sustainability is here to stay. "You never figure it out. As soon as you do, there comes along another trend to address," Oberstadt said. "When you know better you do better. Don't think of sustainability as a destination as there is always work to do. But baby steps do count."