What are Basic Food Service Standards in an Assisted Living Facility?

One of the benefits provided to residents of assisted living communities is the provision of healthy meals. Indeed, state law and regulation establish parameters associated with food service provided in assisted living. These basic food service standards include:

  • Designation of a staff member to be responsible for food service
  • Qualifications of assisted living community food services manager
  • Satisfaction of nutritional guidelines for meals
  • Nature of meals
  • Annual review of regular and therapeutic menus
  • Provision of menus to residents
  • Manner of food served to residents
  • Food reserves at an assisted living community
  • Food service trends among assisted living communities

Designation of Food Service Manager

Food service standards in assisted living require the destination of a food service manager. In a small assisted living facility, this will not be a full-time staff member. However, there must be someone designated to serve in this position. A larger assisted living facility will have a specific food service manager in a full-time position.

Qualifications of Food Service Manager

State statutes and regulations will set forth the specific qualifications for a food service manager. These qualifications will include education, experience, and any certification or certifications that might be required for an individual to serve in the capacity of an assisted living food service manager.

Satisfaction of Nutritional Guidelines for Meals

There are specific federal guidelines that an assisted living community must follow regarding resident food service. There typically are at least some requirements imposed by the state as well.

Meals provided in an assisted living facility must be developed and organized based on the current USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the current summary of Dietary Reference Intakes established by the federal Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies.

Nature of Meals

Meals served in an assisted living community shall include food prepared and served under safe, sanitary conditions. Meals prepared and served need to be consistent with the resident’s preferences. The nutritional needs of the residents shall be met in every meal. Balanced nutritious meals using a variety of foods shall be served in an assisted living community. Consideration shall be given to the food habits, preferences, medical needs, and physical abilities of residents of an assisted living community. 

Annual Review of Regular and Therapeutic Menus

Every regular and therapeutic menu utilized by an assisted living facility must be reviewed and revised annually. This review and revision can only be undertaken by certain professionals:

  • Licensed or registered dietitian
  • Licensed or registered nutritionist
  • Dietetic technician under the supervision of a licensed or registered dietitian or licensed or registered nutritionist

Provision of Menus to Residents

There are some general standards associated with assisted living menus. One of the prime standards is that, as a general rule, both regular and therapeutic menus be organized and dated at least seven days in advance. Menus must be conspicuously displayed or readily made available to all residents.

Because of the lead time established by this standard, there can be times at which adjustments and replacements need to be made regarding an assisted living community menu. While permissible, adjustments and replacements to a planned menu need to be made available to residents at a point in time before a particular meal is served.

Manner of Food Served to Resident

Standards exist regarding how food is served to assisted living residents. According to food service standards, how food is served to residents needs to be “nicely at harmless and appetizing temperatures.”

Residents of an assisted living community cannot be forced to eat. However, assisted living food service standards state that staff should encourage residents to eat. In addition, staff can encourage residents to have their meals in designated dining areas instead of their own rooms or apartments.

Food Reserves for an Assisted Living Community

An assisted living community must maintain food reserves. These reserves are to be maintained in the event of some emergency. For example, a weather event may disrupt the ability to obtain food in the facility for a period of time.

Specifically, in most states, the food reserve needs to be enough for three days based on the existing resident census. The food needs to be nonperishable.

Five Food Service Trends Among Assisted Living Communities

In the past few years, some food service trends have been seen occurring among assisted living communities in the United States. Most of these trends are noticed in larger assisted living facilities. However, as will be seen, there are trends that can also impact small assisted living communities. These five trends regarding assisted living food service are:

  • Multiple dining areas
  • Fresh food cooked to order
  • Outside food served to the community (like food trucks or catered meals)
  • Commercial kitchens
  • Skilled chefs