Monday, 5 October 2009

Factory food... cooking with passion!

With nothing better to do I decided I ought to carry out some research about how the overwhelming majority of hospital meals produced in Britain are made. At this point my lawyers suggested I be no more specific than that in order to protect myself from reprisals or an expensive libel suit.

For those of us who have ever gagged on a plate of factory produced, cook-chill food, it will be some comfort to know that one ‘facility’ in the UK produces more than a million meals each week. The state-of-the-art plant employs the very latest approach to food safety, risk management, quality consistency and manufacturing efficiency by exploiting the technical benefits of new 'steam valve' technology. Hmm… sounds yummy!

For NHS trusts on a budget there’s “a range of freshly prepared chilled meals covering all dietary requirements in a variety of pack sizes to help eliminate waste. A series of standard recipes and strict portion control offer consistent quality (it doesn’t say what sort of quality though) and ‘forecastable’ costs.” That’ll certainly get the accountants salivating.

If frozen food is more your kind of thing then there’s: “a value range that’s immediately available from stock. It offers long shelf life, reduces cooking time on site and is quick and easy to prepare, giving trusts the opportunity to reduce capital and labour costs.” Now that does sound delicious, doesn’t it?

If you’re a trust that wants to spend a bit more on patient food then why not try what I’ve cheekily dubbed the Kabul Kitchen range of frozen individual meals? These meals provide for a range of tastes and food preferences from around the world… would that be the Third World, by any chance?

If you’re one of the handful of trusts that hasn't squandered its budget on silly things like patient care you could treat your patients to “a high-quality range of steam pressure-cooked meals that deliver healthy and nutritious food direct to the patients’ bedside.” Apparently this deluxe range was developed specifically to help NHS Trusts resolve the issues of patient malnutrition, nutritional content of meals and relatively poor acceptance of hospital food.

I think this might mean that the meals are designed to keep hospitals out of the headlines by staving off the problem of patients selfishly starving themselves and leaving hospital with malnutrition.  Apparently, the first hospital to adopt these scrummy meals achieved patient satisfaction scores that rocketed by 20%! Rocketed! Got that?


  1. Good point about the word "quality". People might think it means good, but all it means is consistent or 'according to plan'. So if the food is meant to be dirt cheap and inedible and turns out to be dirt cheap and inedible then it is said to be a quality product.

    Sorry, you're awake and typing so early - I guess you have had a bad night. I hope breakfast is palatable.

  2. Yes it all sounds a little frightening. It makes you long for the old days with the inefficient and no doubt insanitary hospital kitchens. But they produced food rather than products.

  3. One has to presume that the accompanying photograph is a publicity shot from a large-scale catering company, such as you describe.

    Look at the hygiene, the masks, the gloves, the aprons. See the spotlessly clean kitchen turned into a factory production line. Look at the busy efficient people making lots and lots and lots of meals. Think of the economy of scale. Think of portion and cost control...

    ...And then look at the food itself.

    Sums it up really. A cauldron of pavement pizza is paraded as if it's a good thing.

    USP - Unique Sicking Point. That's a new one for the marketeers to play with.

  4. It's not food any more, it's theoretical healing fuel!

  5. I'm thinking that the "operatives" (I'm loathe to call such murderers of perfectly decent food "cooks") in the picture have their faces covered to prevent the smell getting to them, or perhaps to prevent their vomit further contaminating their delicious produce.

    I worked in an NHS hospital kitchen some years ago, and I'm proud to say that everything was done the old fashioned way and great pride was taken in the quality of food produced. Manys the time I had to split huge packs of proper bacon or sausages to prepare for brekkie, and also debagging, cleaning and preparing 100 chickens for roasting at one time (I can still strip the meat off a cold roast chicken in about 2 mins!)
    We even catered for special orders!

    So my sympathy TM, I've not had to experience the catering arm of the modern NHS, and judging by your pictures I'm glad I moved to the other side of the world.

  6. I'm a bit worried about "a variety of pack sizes to help eliminate waste." Does that mean the packaging doubles a suppository, just in case the contents themselves aren't sufficiently laxative?

  7. Eewww! Multi-coloured slop shop.

  8. Fact - 1 in 3 people admitted to Uk hospitals are malnourished on admission - BAPEN 2009.

    It is therefore already an uphill struggle to try and get good nourishing food into these patients as there are many consequences and side effects of poor nutrition. All the more reason why we need decent food in hospitals.

    Our local Trust uses the steam plated meals and I take great exception to the insinuation that we have spent less money on patient care. What the hell have you been saying on here all the way along?
    ALL the drugs, dressings, interventions in the world won't help IF a person does not have decent nutrition.
    I would say that as a Trust we should be commended for seeing this and spending the money on food.
    And it is good stuff - perhaps when you are out of hospital you would like to come and see it for yourself. :)

  9. I think most trusts do a pretty decent job. I've always said that the medical and nursing care in this hospital is the best you can get anywhere. The food produced in the on-site kitchen is excellent. I can't make it any clearer, can I? However, I'm convinced the problem is with the cook-chill crap that simply isn't good enough to nourish sick people. This whole issue is a hot topic. Let's hope that the clinical staff begin to get as much input into the debate as the accountants do.

  10. the further food is produced from the people who eat it the less attractive it becomes. This is because there is more to food than just mass producing ingredients in a set procedure, the ingredient that is missing is a bit of love and care - as soon as things become mass produced off site, it just becomes another commodity to be consumed not enjoyed. If you are in hospital for a long time, your meals may be the highlight of your day. I remember when meals were cooked in the hospital, and they were so much better than the cook chill meals. If we had a patient with particular needs, we could contact the kitchen and they would do their very best to accommodate that patient. Satisfaction all round. I feel as sorry for the people working in these food factories as I do for the patients eating the food. I am sure they do their best, but there is no substitute for the real thing. We have just spent a week at butlins - they are obviously working within a budget, but the food was cooked on site, and it was very nice indeed. No more to be said, I think. It is about time that the food hospital patients eat was given the same amount of attention that childrens school meals were recently

  11. You're so right, Bonnie. You've summed up everthing I've learned from this experience. When I eat a panini from the kitchen I just wish I could go down and kiss whoever made it for me. Food is important and I can tell when someone's taken trouble. The cooks here are heroes and I bet they hate heating up cook-chill crap too.