From Canadian Healthcare Manager Dec 18, 2013
Hospitals and foodservice providers are making great strides in improving patients’ food experience by incorporating ingredients that are healthy, fresh and local
WRITTEN BY DON DOULOFF ON DECEMBER 18, 2013
Cue the stereotype. Hospital food is notoriously bad.
Horror stories abound, as an Internet search quickly reveals. In one incident, a vegetarian was served a dinner of cold carrots—and nothing else. Another woman encountered overcooked, bland and mushy food so bad it was “beyond cliché.” Her husband, a former chef, began preparing food at home and bringing it to her bedside.
Hospitals, government, non-profit organizations and foodservice providers are working to improve patients’ culinary experience with healthier meal options incorporating local foods
But things are changing. Hospitals, government, non-profit organizations and foodservice providers are working to improve patients’ culinary experience with healthier meal options incorporating local foods. Result: Improved patient satisfaction and along with it, cost savings realized through reduced waste.
Local, fresh, sustainable
On the foodservice side, there’s Steamplicity. Developed by Compass Group in the U.K. and brought to Canada in 2009 by the company’s Canadian division, Steamplicity uses hospitals’ onsite microwave ovens to steam food using ingredients’ natural moisture. At the company’s Cuisine Centre, in Mississauga, Ont., entrees are prepared on a microwave-safe plate, sealed with a recyclable plastic polymer and chilled.
Ten hospitals in Ontario and B.C. use Steamplicity, according to Sharon McDonald, president of Compass Group Canada’s Morrison Healthcare division. The two B.C. hospitals, Royal Jubilee and Victoria General, prepare Steamplicity meals onsite in mini-Cuisine Centres.
Steamplicity offers 60 meal options—for example, wild Pacific salmon and steamed rice with fresh broccoli florets— developed by Morrison’s executive chef and dietitians. Wherever possible, Compass purchases ingredients that are local, fresh and sustainable, said McDonald.
Royal Jubilee and Victoria General introduced Steamplicity in January, 2012, and since then, patient satisfaction levels have risen dramatically, said Joe Murphy, vice-president, operations and support services at Vancouver Island Health Authority. Organic food waste has fallen to an average of 9,450 kg per month, down from an average of 15,400 kg per month, he said.
Providing healthy patient-menu options is The Fresh and Local Cookbook Developed for Healthcare Foodservices, published in mid-November by Burlodge Canada, a Brampton, Ont.-based manufacturer of retherm systems used to reheat chilled or frozen prepared foods. The cookbook features 79 retherm-friendly recipes for hot dishes and cold items such as salads, sandwiches and desserts tailored to hospitals’ nutritional requirements.
Ethnic flavour added
St. Michael’s Hospital, in Toronto, will be adding a Burlodge recipe—Mexican lasagna—to its patient menus. The lasagna is “unique” and will “add some ethnic flavour,” said Heather Fletcher, interim director of foodservice and patient transport at the 450-bed facility.
During the past two and a half years, the hospital has incorporated healthier foods and now, the “majority” of fruits and vegetables on patient menus are fresh, in-season “when we can get them” and sourced from Ontario, Fletcher said.
In addition, St. Michael’s offers healthier desserts such as fruit, yogurt, mixed-berry crisps and low-fat pudding. “We’ve seen a noted improvement in the amount of food consumed and in food waste,” said Fletcher.
Can order what they want
Also seeing increased patient satisfaction is Capital Health, which services 10 Nova Scotia hospitals.
The menu at Capital Health’s acute-care facilities offers up to eight options for each appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert category, said Jane Pryor, director of operations support. Everything is made from scratch and “all food contracts give preference to local suppliers, where available,” she said. Local foods include meats and in-season fruits, vegetables and lobster.
“There’s less waste because people can now order what they want,” she said.
Baked and grilled over fried
Out west, Alberta Health Services (AHS) has made great strides in recent years to patient menus at its 107 facilities, where food is made on-site.
AHS removed deep fryers in favour of baked and grilled foods, said Heather Truber, director, food safety, menu and supply, nutrition and foodservices. In 2012, AHS introduced Closer to Home, a program allowing facilities to make site-specific changes to dishes to satisfy patients’ tastes, while still adhering to master menus and dietary restrictions, said Truber. AHS is continually working to enhance their menu items by, for example, introducing lemon-dill sauce for fish and offering dried cranberries, which patients can add to hot or cold cereals.
During the past year, AHS has focused on sourcing more Alberta products, which now account for 29 per cent of its food offering (not including produce), up from 24 per cent in 2012, said Truber. Alberta producers supply greenhouse and field peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes, grains, in-season fruits and all of AHS’s eggs and beef as part of the organization’s $55-million annual food buy. Truber said the new menu items are generating “positive patient feedback.”
Local product percentage boost
Local products have become a bigger part of the food buy in the St. Joseph’s Health System Group Purchasing Organization following a $65,000 pilot project, bankrolled by the Green Belt Fund, a privately and publicly funded non-profit organization working to increase the amount of Ontario foods in hospitals.
Undertaken between January 2011 and March 2012, the pilot project invited local food vendors to participate in the request for proposal (RFP) process. Now, Ontario products account for $1.5-million of the group purchasing organization’s annual food buy, up from “well under $1-million before the project,” said Wendy Smith, material management analyst in the MEALsource division, which aggregates volumes and facilitates the contract process for its 26 member patient-foodservice operations.
“Our success would not have been possible without the hard work of our partners for this project at My Sustainable Canada.” Smith added. “They first determined the origin of the products originally on contract, aided with reaching out to local vendors who could meet these needs and made the appropriate introductions so that MEALsource could proceed with the necessary vendor education to enable these folks to begin bidding on our business.
“We found that the RFP process was very daunting for local vendors and many did not know that it existed. As well, there was much work involved in ensuring that the products quoted met the safety and inspection standards necessary for healthcare procurement. This project has done much to increase the level of competition in our contract process and through that, everyone wins.”
Chef-driven, right from scratch
In 2010, foodservice provider Sodexo Canada, headquartered in Burlington, Ont., introduced chef-driven, scratch-made food at 491-bed Mackenzie Health hospital, in Richmond Hill, Ont., north of Toronto. Making everything from scratch gives the 10-chef team flexibility to alter recipes “literally overnight” to meet dietitians’ requests, says Gay Magrath, a Sodexo employee who works onsite at Mackenzie Health as director of foodservices.
Complementing the food is “high-touch” customer service whereby a Mackenzie Health staff member visits patients right before mealtimes to display the menu on a hand-held device. Patients then make their choices, restaurant-style.
Magrath said that since 2010, food waste has decreased “significantly” and fell by more than 8 per cent during the past year.
Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge
More healthy and local food initiatives are underway. In late 2012, the Coalition for Green Health Care, comprising some of Canada’s largest healthcare associations and environmental groups, introduced its Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, a framework that outlines steps the healthcare industry can take to improve the health of patients, communities and the environment.
In March, 2013, the Greenbelt Fund launched the Local Food Challenge, which helps eight public institutions (including four hospitals) buy more local food for their menus. They will create new recipes, work with local farmers on education and liaise with distributors on local food suppliers. Supporting the program is the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs.
Those two provincial ministries, as part of their New Directions Research Program, are funding a three-year, $200,000 pilot project exploring the possibility of growing food on publicly owned institutional land. Developed in partnership with the Coalition for Green Health Care and My Sustainable Canada, a national non-profit group dedicated to helping organizations make sustainable choices, the project launched in September, 2013, at two healthcare facilities, Homewood Health Centre, in Guelph, Ont., and Glengarry Memorial Hospital, in Alexandria, Ont.
So much for stereotypes.
Don Douloff is a freelance writer living in Toronto.