Curing Hospital Food Waste

An Oregon hospital hopes that increased food choices will enhance patient health and happiness. A nice byproduct, hopefully, will be less wasted food.

Ashland Community Hospital recently began allowing patients to order what they want, when they want it. They also improved the options. Unappetizing meals no longer arrive at the stroke of 8 a.m., noon and 5 by cafemama (via Creative Commons)

There will be less waste if patients choose when and what they eat, as the hospital’s dietary services manager Rebecca Fowler noted:

After a few months, Fowler said she expects costs to decrease because less food will be wasted.

While more menu choice will lead to less plate waste from patients, it will create more excess in the kitchen. That’s an improvement, though, as unserved food can be reserved, repurposed or donated to the hungry through food recovery groups.

With health care so costly, don’t patients deserve more say in when they receive their food? It might bring some logistical hurdles, but they’re worth clearing because the “one size fits all” model of food service guarantees unhappy (and possibly unhealthy) patients and much food waste.

For example, a UK study found the average plate waste was 14 percent of the meal’s weight. One Minnesota hospital saved $50,000 in one year by trimming its waste. Sizable numbers.

What you think of the increased choice idea? And do you have any hospital food waste stories?

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  1. Molly
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I used to volunteer at a children’s hospital, basically baby-sitting patients so their parents could take a break. One of the kids, a 2 year old, was on “double potions” b/c her medical condition caused her to be underweight. The food was not child friendly and was served in adult sized portions. One day she got a try with 4 pieces of fried chicken, spaghetti, a salad and a roll, but she could only eat the spaghetti and roll b/c she was just too young to tackle half of a fried chicken on her own, so the leftovers went straight in the trash.

  2. Posted August 20, 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a hospital meal that looked as tasty as the one in the photo! lol

    The hospital I delivered all of my kids in had a daily menu, where you could choose exactly what you wanted. That was nice, because I could pick what sounded appetizing and leave out what didn’t.

  3. Posted August 21, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m not only “The Non-Consumer Advocate,” but am also an RN on a labor and delivery floor.

    My hospital does a pretty good job with their food, but it’s certainly far from perfect.

    Example: Bananas come shrink-wrapped on a plate, which is also on a tray.

    In terms of food waste. Patients do get to choose their meals, and we have vegetarian, kosher, vegan options, etc. If a patient follows a special diet due to ethnicity or food allergies, a dietician visits with them to help come up with a dietary plan that works for them.

    Patients often get trays up when they’re not actually able to eat, (example: full blown labor) and the RN’s will offer the tray to the husband or other support people. And we certainly will eat the food ourselves if no one else will. The exception to this is when it’s a “clear liquid tray,” which is jello, juice, tea, broth. This is hardly a tempting treat. These do get wasted.

    I am going to start paying better attention to this issue at work.

    -Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

  4. Posted August 28, 2008 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I’ve unfortunately spent quite a bit of time in hospitals this year, but they did have choices. They are also good about portion size. When you order french toast, you’re getting one slice of bread, so you need to order the appropriate amount, which is good too.

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