Save $300 a month with disposable meal trays

Are dirty meal trays a common sight in your ED? By switching to a disposable tray system, the ED at Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, CA, was able to save $300 a month, reports Stephanie J. Baker, RN, BSN, CEN, MBA/HCM, director of emergency services.

"We had a real problem in the ED with the piling up of dirty food trays," she says. "We would order meals for patients, feed them, but then constantly had to call dietary to come back and pick up dirty trays that we had piled up in our utility room."

Since the ED wasn’t on a regular food tray delivery schedule, dietary staff weren’t coming back and picking them up routinely. "Often I would go in and find five to 10 dirty trays," says Baker.

Baker worked with the director of dietary to switch to a disposable tray system for the ED, with patient meals served on sturdy styrofoam trays with plastic plates and covers to keep food warm, along with plastic utensils, cups, and paper napkins. "This gets rid of the infection control issues and is much safer for our psychiatric patients who were not to have metal eating utensils anyway," says Baker.

The ED staff throw the entire tray in the trash when the patient is finished, which saves the dietary staff from returning multiple times every day to pick up dirty trays. In addition, dietary was asked to routinely deliver six lunches with a sandwich, fruit, and milk at 6 p.m. as a quick way to feed patients during the night shift. "This prevented the night house supervisor from having to go to the cafeteria after hours to scrounge up food for us and allowed us to feed hypoglycemic or diabetic patients quickly," says Baker.

In addition, admitted patients may need meals while waiting for an inpatient bed to become available, says Baker. "We also often feed psychiatric patients, as many times they have been decompensating prior to their visit and have not eaten properly for a day or two," she says. "It also keeps them calm and gives them something to do while we get them ready for admission."

Baker estimates that the new system saves an hour a day for ED technicians, since multiple phone calls and trips to collect and return trays are saved. "At an hourly rate of about $10 for ED techs, this saves us about $300 per month from the ED budget," reports Baker.

[Editor’s note: Baker can be reached at Paradise Valley Hospital, 2400 E. Fourth St., National City, CA 91950. Telephone: (619) 470-4386. E-mail:]