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Public sector focus: We must shout about care catering

27 January 2017 by
Public sector focus: We must shout about care catering

Care catering is a highly-skilled profession, so why is it the industry's ‘poor
relation', asks Neel Radia, national chair, National Association of Care Catering

G ood nutrition and hydration is fundamental to quality care. Chefs working in the care sector have a tremendous responsibility to ensure our nation's elderly and vulnerable people receive food that matches their individual physical and emotional needs and enhances their wellbeing.

So why is care catering the ‘poor relation' of the industry? It frustrates me that the sector's contribution is overlooked and the skills of care chefs undervalued. I don't understand why care catering is often omitted when promoting the many fantastic and rewarding career opportunities within catering and hospitality.

Care catering is a highly-skilled profession. It's challenging and demands specialist skills and knowledge. As people age, their dietary needs change and, when preparing meals for the elderly and vulnerable, a wide variety of special diets must be recognised and catered for safely. From food intolerances to dysphagia (difficulties swallowing) and dementia, it's vital that care caterers can confidently deliver the right nutrition and hydration to ensure quality of life and prevent any unnecessary malnutrition-related illnesses.

The innovative presentation and flavour combinations are of the calibre many would expect in top restaurants, rather than in care homes.

A new professional qualification The biggest injustice, however, has to be the lack of a formal qualification focusing on care catering. It is ludicrous to expect a care chef to understand how to cater for specific diets and needs without the right education and training. That's why we have joined forces with the Hospital Caterers Association and Barnet and Southgate College to develop the very first professional qualification for the health and social care sector.

The NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Professional Cookery in Health and Social Care Catering piloted last year and we honoured our first batch of graduates at the NACC awards dinner in October. The new course includes the specialised topics of nutrition and hydration, fortification, texture-modified foods, allergies and diets, and it represents significant positive change for our sector.

A voice in colleges
We also need to ensure care catering has a voice within colleges. It has been my experience that at this key point of influence for many youngsters entering the industry, it's the hotel and restaurant sectors that get the most attention. The possible reasons behind this are understandable, such as the glamourisation of these sectors by the media, the celebrity chef culture, and the fact that many lecturers herald from and have links with restaurants and hotels. But the care sector must also take some responsibility, as it's not been known to beat its own drum in the past.

The UK's older population is growing steadily, as is the care sector. It has never been so important for opinion within the industry to change and for care catering to receive the same focus and airtime as other sectors do. Let's shout about the opportunities and recognise the talented, skilled chefs our
sector produces.

We must give new young entrants to the industry and those already working as chefs all the information they need to consider it as a rewarding and viable career option.

The deadline for entries to the 2017 NACC Care Chef of the Year competition
is 3 February. For more information and to download an entry form, visit www.thenacc.co.uk/events/care_chef_year

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