Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
(Wo)man at work: hospital catering service employee
Kristel Zaal/ 22/ third-year student of Psychology/ works on average 7.5 hours per week/ earns €10.95 per hour
“Hold on for a moment”, someone says in the basement of the Maastricht University Medical Centre. Things are moving a little too fast at the beginning of the conveyor belt of the patient catering service. It’s usually quiet here. “Everyone works best that way”, says psychology student Kristel Zaal, which means the work environment isn’t very conducive to chatting. “Colleagues chat beforehand, if at all.” Still, she really likes her side job.
A disposable coat, latex gloves and a hairnet on, a press on the button to open the sliding door and as fast as possible to your favorite supply cart lined up beside the long conveyor belt. Because if it’s taken, it’s taken. “We don’t have fixed workstations, as everyone should be able to do everything”, says Zaal, “but some are more popular than others. The carts with dairy products and sweet products contain only individually packaged foods, which are easier to handle. Each slice of lunch meat or cheese has to be placed on the plate on a plastic sheet, and the bread for some hospital departments has to be placed in small bags to prevent it from drying out. At first I was a little anxious when I had to work a ‘difficult’ cart, but I no longer mind. I’ve been working five shifts per week on average for a year now.”
She’s no stranger to assembly line jobs. When she was in secondary school, she worked in a factory producing cleaning products. She’s also worked in a call centre in Maastricht, did document management for a motorway tunnel project, and she still works as a cleaner once every two weeks. “The only thing I haven’t really done yet is work in the food service industry, haha.”
The conveyor belt begins to move. Zaal, standing at the very end, puts the trays with the meals in the right department trolleys. The trays are first placed on the conveyor belt along with a standing, folded lists of the patients’ food wishes. They then move past supply carts containing, for example, meat, cheese, dairy and bread products. “It’s important to read the list carefully, as almost every order is different. For sweet spreads and toppings, A means strawberry jam, B means apricot jam, C means chocolate sprinkles and D means chocolate spread. For the bread cart, A1 B2 means one slice of white bread and two slices of brown bread. When you’re just starting out, the lists look like alphabet soup to you. At half past 12, all meal trays have to be in the trolleys and go to the patients in the wards. We spend the last half hour cleaning and restocking the supply carts for breakfast the next morning. The evening shift prepares hot meals.”
“It takes a while to get the hang of it”, says Zaal, “because of all the different workstations, but essentially it’s possible to master each cart in three shifts.” One shift is one and a half hours long. Isn’t that a little short? It’s over just when you’re getting into the swing of things. Zaal: “It’s actually quite convenient; I work between lectures. I love it. But I’m especially fan of the morning shifts; those are from half past seven to nine. I’m wide awake afterwards. I’d only be sleeping instead anyway.”