How can hospitals improve food service?

No one looks forward to a trip to the hospital. The pain, boredom and general environment is enough to turn you off the food.

Jokes aside, hospital food plays a huge role in patient recovery. Patients who eat poorly for 3-4 days can have their length of stay extended, as their daily nutrient requirements aren’t met.

Then there’s the risk of hospital-acquired food-borne illness outbreaks ( nosocomial gastroenteritis), which occur in Australia and worldwide. Recently, in 2019 Listeria was found in ham sandwiches served to patients and families at the Queensland Children’s Hospital. Luckily, no one was affected.


A success story – ‘My Food Choice’ in NSW public hospitals

Catering in NSW public hospitals had changed little in 30 years. In that time, technology such as the internet and Wi-Fi had evolved, hospital stays had decreased, and food service everywhere else had improved.

So, the NSW government initiated ‘My Food Choice‘ in 2016. Since then, it’s been implemented in all NSW government hospitals. Its key feature is the use of technology to improve patient satisfaction. The time between ordering and receiving meals is under four hours, giving patients a menu of up to 18 hot meals at lunch and dinner. Malnutrition and food wastage decreased, and food intake is tracked.

At breakfast, patients are shown pictures of meals on a tablet, the order sent to the kitchen via wifi. The kitchen staff use touchscreens to manage their workload, which streamlines reporting for managers.

The old tray assembly line has been replaced with agile stations, where staff fill the orders they have personally taken. The staff then deliver and return the dirty plates from their patients. Trained in customer service, these staff record what the patient ate for dieticians and nursing staff on their tablet.

Custom-designed collection trolleys and high-performance dishwashers were purchased, improving both Work Health and Safety standards and efficiency.


Hospital food service in other states

Many hospitals are now adopting technology and streamlining their processes to cut down on waste. Paper menus have gone electronic, with more nutritious choices for the patient.

In Victoria, they recently completed their own review of hospital food. Their new food standards focus on taste, appearance and variety of meals. They also ensure health services represent different cultures, such as kosher or halal food.

Nutrition standards in Victoria will focus on young Victorian patients who have to spend extended time in hospital, providing food that’s both appealing and nutritious. Where possible, local Victorian producers and economies will be used.

In WA, Fremantle, Royal Perth, Sir Charles Gairdner, King Edward Memorial and Rockingham General hospitals were all part of a program to share pre-prepared food options.  Menu cards carrying helpful descriptions of dishes helped patients handpick a meal to their liking.


Key takeaways 

  • Provide electronic menus showing photos of the meals
  • Provide meal choices
  • Offer the menu on the day of the meal
  • Be culturally inclusive
  • Train staff in customer service
  • Invest in meal presentation

As the Launceston General Hospital Department of Health website says, “Please spare a thought for our chefs cooking 3000 serves of beans. Some patients like them crisp, some patients like them mushy, and the amount of salt varies to individuals’ taste preferences.”


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