Food service staff member conducting food audit via video conference

COVID-19 prompts hospital food safety audits to go digital

9 June 2021

When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, the Food Service and Quality Assurance teams from HealthShare NSW had to stop the mandatory regulatory on-site audits in each of the state’s 151 hospitals.

Passing the NSW Food Authority audit gives each hospital the formal tick of approval to continue serving food each year.

“When COVID-19 hit, we had to suspend all facility audits for the next 60 days. We just had to stop dead and shut down auditing” explained Acting Quality Assurance Manager Fifi Spechler, Healthshare NSW.

"We knew that if COVID-19 continued, we'd have to find another way of doing the audits. Without them we aren’t licensed to provide food in our hospitals or aged care facilities.”

Collaboration brings virtual audits to food services in NSW hospitals

In response, eHealth NSW and HealthShare NSW partnered together to digitally shift 151 on-site food audits to virtual audits.

The first win was the NSW Food Authority agreeing to move all 2020 hospital food audits online.

"The technology had to replicate what the auditor could do if they were physically on site. They need to see and inspect anything in real-time. Right down to individual items in our freezers and fridges,” Ms Spechler said.

“The auditor, a member of my team and a Food Service site manager also had to connect at the same time. Despite being in three different locations across the state.”

Having worked closely last year with eHealth NSW to implement My Food Choice – a digital patient ordering system using iPads – Healthshare NSW engaged the team to come up with a digital solution to this pressing challenge.

Food service staff member conducting food audit via video conference
Christine Nolte from HealthShare NSW Food and Patient Support Services conducting a virtual food audit at Tumut Hospital

eHealth NSW provides technology to support accurate remote audits

“To connect everything up, we needed the right network infrastructure, the right software, the right device and the right user access to all be in place,” said Seraaj Slamang, Project Manager, eHealth NSW.

“It had to be a live call, not recorded. Many people are on the call with someone walking around the hospital. Often in areas that have no or limited internet connection.”

Leveraging existing critical statewide infrastructure, such as statewide Wi-Fi, the team chose Skype for Business live stream coupled with iPads with a camera as the digital solution.

“We turned on the Skype and iPad camera, and then, basically over the internet, the auditor did their inspection,” Ms Spechler explained.

“They looked at the cleanliness of the facility, viewed used-by dates on cans and watched if staff were doing the right processes such as sanitising fruit and vegetables.

“One of the requirements was that there has to be warm running water in the kitchens. Food service staff held a thermometer under the running water so the auditor could view live the temperature.

“Food Service staff stood at the entrance of cold rooms and freezers. Panned the room with the camera so the auditor could request to view an item off any shelf.

“It really was a true comparison to the traditional audit. The digital experience mimicked the onsite experience incredibly well.”

Remote audits demonstrate a future-proof solution

By the end of 2020, the team had completed 120 remote audits. All sites received an A-grade rating, the highest that can be achieved. For the Food Audit team, the experience was extremely positive. It's since paved the way to re-imagine how future food audits will run after Covid-19.

"In the 'old days' the food audit would mean a huge amount of travelling for the audit team, and WH&S could be a real issue. Normally, we did twelve audits per month because of the distances to drive between hospitals. Now, we spend that time working with the hospital teams on quality improvement, such as training”.

For eHealth NSW, it’s the prospect of helping more NSW Health teams that is their main goal.

“Other statewide programs like Telestroke, My Food Choice and Patient Wi-Fi are all capitalising on the technology investment made. With the statewide infrastructure and Wi-Fi now in place, there are endless opportunities to deliver more benefits across NSW Health leveraging digital technologies.” said Jason Matthews, eHealth NSW Program Director.

To find out more please contact the eHealth NSW project team at

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