The first real food served to me in the hospital’s Coronary Care Unit after my heart attack was a cold roast beef sandwich on doughy white bread. I was surprised (red meat for a heart attack survivor?) but also hungry, so I managed to scarf it down.
In August, I was back in hospital for another cardiac procedure, and again my first meal was another sandwich: this time, a single unadorned, slimy, food-style processed cheese slice on that same doughy white bread.
This is what’s being served in a hospital cardiac unit? What are they thinking?
I should have learned my lesson after my first visit. Why didn’t I just pack a nice lunch before heading to the hospital? So notoriously revolting are most hospital food trays that a number of sites feature photographs of mystery meat smothered with thick globby gravy, each shot trying to outdo the last. I’ve even found shots of really appealing hospital trays from Spain, for example, that show us what could be done!
One poor hospital patient in the U.K. even started a Hospital Food Bingo Game online, asking visitors to correctly guess the content of each hospital tray photo he posted. Fewer than half could guess accurately.
And I really should have known better, having worked in this very hospital since 2000. In fact, our nurses used to frequently ask me to photograph particularly disgusting or unrecognizable meals on the arriving tray carts, by way of documenting the embarrassing evidence for hospital administrators.
But we all knew it didn’t have to be this way. When a major renovation of our 17-bed unit meant a 3-month relocation of our patients to a nearby seniors facility a few years ago, we found out how beautifully delicious and healthy hospital food could actually be.
Other Canadian hospitals believe this to be true as well. Some have even begun offering a version of room service, where meals are made when patients order them, rather than being cooked, chilled and then re-heated. Julia Dumanian, CEO of Ontario’s Cambridge Memorial Hospital, says her hospital is a pioneer of a new food service concept called ‘Steamplicity’:
“We were tired of hospital food being the butt of everyone’s jokes.”
North York General Hospital in Toronto has also implemented the ‘Steamplicity’ system, which has already earned positive reviews after being pilot-tested on a couple of its wards. It uses a special enclosure that creates a pressure-cooker effect when food is heated just before being delivered, the goal being to approximate a freshly cooked meal.
A British study two years ago found patients there were impressed by the results, and actually ate more food than those presented with traditionally prepared hospital meals.
The most ambitious changes, though, are happening in the United States, with hundreds of hospitals signing on to an approach that emphasizes cooking food from scratch, using fresh, often locally grown, ingredients. Dr. Diane D’Isidori is co-founder of the Plow-to-Plate program at Connecticut’s New Milford Hospital.
“To me, if you’re a hospital and you’re not serving food that is good for the body, you’re not true to your mission. A hospital is supposed to be about making people well … and food is an integral part of that.”
Learn more about farm-to-hospital programs in this essay on Real Food, Real Health.
And would somebody please explain to me why all hospitals are not implementing food service programs like the Izaak Walton Killam Health Centre does in Halifax? Its innovative 24/7 Dial for Dining program received a 3M Health Care Quality Team Award last year, which honoured IWK for these reason:
“Dial for Dining has increased patient satisfaction, enhanced patient consumption of healthy foods, substantially reduced food wastage, improved green initiatives, and helped the IWK Health Centre save valuable financial resources.”
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See also: “My Debut on the National News”
Hospital Food Inspection Update: May 10, 2011: Food serving areas at the 264-bed Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa racked up nine food safety violations during an Ontario Food Premises health inspection last week — five of them “critical”.
Critical safety violations cited, including “lack of adequate protection from contamination”, can contribute to foodborne illness. Non-critical safety violations included citations for “lacking proper protection from the entrance of bugs and rodents”.