In a recent study undertaken by a catering expert in Scottish hospital “super-kitchens”, it was found that the food prepared and provided for nearly 1.2 million patients a month was barely “a pastiche of food”. With inadequate cooking and cold storage practises, complete with substandard ingredients and an inadequate use of blast freezers for long-term storage, the examination questioned how anyone could find the fare offered by Scottish hospitals palatable.
David Maguire, a noted restaurateur, was granted unrestricted access to numerous catering facilities used by the NHS to provide meals for its patients throughout Scotland. There, Mr Maguire hoped he could gain an insight into the way food was prepared, distributed and reheated for patients in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC).
Mt Maguire offered his services for free, and the NHS allowed him full access to all their catering facilities in the spirit of transparency and openness.
Unfortunately, Mr Maguire would later report that he found standards somewhat lacking.
Principally he found that food was often reheated incorrectly, with an example being frozen potato pellets being placed into an oven for over an hour, despite only requiring reheating in a microwave. He also found that the plastic trays used in cooking lost integrity at 145°C, which made it impossible to heat food up to the required 160°C.
Usually when cooked to a suitably high temperature, foods such as potatoes brown and improve in flavour, a process called caramelisation. Not to be deterred, brought-in frozen slabs of mashed potatoes are cooked with small brown spots painted on them, to give the impression that they have caramelised.
Mr Maguire also found that most hospitals lacked adequate blast freezers, or else used their blast freezers inadequately, which are necessary to shock-freeze goods below -18°C and prevent ice crystals forming that make the food water on defrosting. Instead, food was only chilled by blast freezers to roughly -4°C. They were also frequently transferred to conventional freezers. Maguire speculated that this was probably due to hospital kitchens closing at 5pm, preventing longer chill times.
In response, the NHSGGC has stated that while Maguire’s concerns were certainly valid, he was commenting as a commercial caterer, not as someone who operates a health facility that must cater to millions of people nationwide. As a spokesperson commented; “[…] a catering environment such as ours […] demands the production of 1.2 million patient meals a month”.
They further added that detailed preparation of food, such as peeling and dicing carrots for each individual meal, just isn’t practical or cost effective for a hospital kitchen, when catering to such a scale as they. However, in response to the issues regarding the quality of their mashed potatoes, they have reportedly changed suppliers.
It also reported to have hired professional mass-production catering experts in hopes of improving patient satisfaction of food, as well as finding ways of more adequate use of ovens and blast freezers.