Finally… Hospital Food Revamped!

The hospital network serving Canada’s Capital has launched an aggressive campaign to upgrade the food it serves its patients. What did it take to get the administration to admit its former menu was muck? Nothing less than a bold stroke by the Hospital’s forward-looking CEO…

Yellow Puck of Sadness - © 2016 Jennifer LafaveJennifer Lafave’s ‘yellow puck of sadness’… The picture that started a revolution!

The Ottawa Hospital, which is spread across three ‘campuses’ spanning the city, has had, until now, pretty much the same ‘hospital food’ as most other hospitals across the Western World. Then, CEO Dr. Jack Kitts decreed that he, along with other top hospital managers, would eat only hospital food, three meals a day, for a week and then talk about what to do.

Kitts decided to look into the situation after Ottawa resident Jennifer Lafave wrote him a personal paean about the ‘food’ her ailing husband was being served during a recent hospital stay. And the commitment to change came almost immediately thereafter. The letter writer went as far as to call the egg her husband was served one day ‘a yellow puck of sadness’. If you were Dr. Kitts, could you ignore something like that?

What’s wrong with ‘hospital’ food?

Just about everything, apparently. In general, it looks crappy and has little or no flavour. Meats are almost always dry and tough. Veggies are usually mushy. And meals usually arrive stone cold at the patients’ bedsides.

That the food is cold is more than an off-putting aggravation. Restaurateurs in this jurisdiction have to cook foods to certain minimum temperatures and hold them at temperatures not too far below that. That’s to ensure that any bacteria present are killed in cooking and any that arrive thereafter or persist in the food cannot survive. There are also regulations about how long food can sit out on a buffet – whether cold service or the hot table. Time and Temperature are two of the key considerations in the food service industry’s FAT TOM rule, a set of guidelines designed to ensure that an eatery’s patrons don’t get food poisoning. I wonder if the local health inspectors ever go into the hospital to put their stop watches on those dinner trolleys that seem to sit for hours in the hallways, or probe the food itself with their official thermometers…

As a food service pro, I was curious about the Time and Temp situation re.- hospital food. A couple of years ago, a dear friend was admitted to hospital for 10 days after what they thought was a heart attack. The good news is, there wasn’t any heart muscle damage or serious arterial blockage. The bad news is, the friend had to eat hospital food for 10 days. I smuggled a meat thermometer into the place and checked the plates that the friend was served over several days. They read uniformly and considerably cooler the Health Department’s decreed service and holding temperature standards.

So, what’s changing?

Just about everything. And that’s good. The menus will be updated and expanded. Choice will be expanded. Concerted efforts will be made to make the food more flavourful, while remaining in line with individual patients’ dietary needs and religious prohibitions.

Happily, the template for this huge change in food service politices and procedures was discovered only a few kilcs away, at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, which serves the far west end of the Greater Ottawa area and is not a part of the Ottawa Hospital Network, per se. It’s already revamped its food service for patients and cafeteria diners to rave reviews. Now, all that the Ottawa Hospital has to do is multiply that effort by about 10 times to fit its needs.

I just hope that, finally, the food will be hot.

~ Maggie J.