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Case studies

Gentofte Hospital, Denmark has 2,400 staff members and 227 beds, welcoming approximately 20,000 inpatients and 200,000 outpatients per year, and serving about 328,500 meals annually. By purchasing fresh, organic (up to 80%), and seasonal food produced exclusively in Denmark, and by preparing meals on-site, the hospital kitchen is practicing a sustainable food policy; the hospital has put in place a very advanced programme to minimise food waste. Food leftovers from the wards are placed in a tank for temporary storage, and the bulk is then converted into gas in a bioreactor.

Preparing fresh food on-site every day allows them to decrease food waste as much as possible. Another method that helps minimise food waste is to allow the kitchen staff, instead of nurses, to serve meals to patients, and to establish ‘protected’ meal times which allow patients to eat undisturbed and to receive help if unable to eat on their own. The presence of kitchen staff in the wards provides a better understanding of food requirements for each patient, and of how to adapt patients’ portions day by day. Staff also receive training in waste management. This training is necessary to help implement the hospital’s biowaste solutions using uneaten food from open containers.

Thanks to all these measures, the hospital has decreased food waste by 10% in two years
(2013-2015). Another important element of the sustainable food programme is the reduction in packaging and plastic used in the hospital. This is achieved by serving meals in ceramic containers, which also makes the dish more aesthetic. The food is sent to the wards in a heated trolley and is later served on a hot plate or a small bowl covered with a lid

Read more: Fresh, healthy, and sustainable food: Best practice in European healthcare

Hvidovre Hospital, Denmark, provides an excellent example of the prevention and reduction of food waste. With more than 5.8 million patient meals, and 5.1 million staff meals per year, patients can choose from an à la carte menu, with different menu options for patients in the paediatric department. Using this ordering system, patients receive small portions (but have the possibility to order a double portion if they want more) and thanks to this system, food waste has been reduced. The system requires dialogue between the kitchen and the departments within the hospital, as well as with the patients, and this dialogue contributes greatly to both patient and employee satisfaction.

In addition to delivering high-quality, seasonal, and local produce, the hospital has introduced a strict inventory management system, particularly for dairy products, constantly monitoring any remaining produce in the fridge. The hospital also pays particular attention to the aesthetics of their dishes, making the food served more attractive. In terms of re-use, uneaten sandwiches from the staff canteen are served in the cafeteria.

Read more: Food waste in European healthcare settings

The Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona has over 1,200 beds and approximately 9,000 employees. It offers many services such as mother and childcare, traumatology, and rehabilitation. With a central on-site kitchen the hospital produces approximately 4,800 meals daily including breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. Vall d’Hebron offers approximately 450 menus across the year, including vegetarian menus and individual dietary choices for both staff and patients. This large choice, combined with efforts to improve communication and coordination between kitchen staff and patients, has lead to a reduction in food waste.

The Hospital’s Dietetics Department adjusts patients’ diets to accommodate for allergies, patient preferences, and to prevent malnutrition. The department also carries out satisfaction surveys and monitors patients’ intake in different wards. Close attention is paid to menu presentation (especially for oncological, nephrological, and paediatric patients), and dishes’ design (especially for geriatric patients). They have also developed a management system for each ward to monitor stock levels, allowing for better management of expiry dates – often a main cause of food waste

Read more: Reducing hospital malnutrition with a circular economy approach

The Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH), the fourth largest hospital in the United Kingdom, has a sustainable food programme accredited by the Food for Life programme of the Soil Association with the hospital acquiring the Gold Standard in 2014. The hospital purchases fresh and locally sourced food, which is cooked in an on-site kitchen. The local producers also have to be accredited by the Food for Life Programme: the producers are kept in regular contact with the programme through yearly monitoring visits, with perfect traceability ensured. The main focus of the hospital’s sustainable food programme is to provide fresh and locally produced food. For example, 95% of meat served comes from a local processor sourcing from farmers in the East Midlands. This switch to local suppliers has saved food miles and has also contributed to the socio-economic growth of the region. The hospital does offer organic meals, but the organic supply chain is too small to provide all the hospital’s meals on a regular basis.

NUH has also developed a food waste policy; the main challenge is knowing the number of patients present at each mealtime. It is therefore crucial to receive patients’ orders as closely as possible to mealtimes. With a tablet available in each patient’s room, patients are allowed to order meals directly from the bedside just two hours before mealtime, thus improving the accuracy of number of meals required.

Read more: Fresh, healthy, and sustainable food: Best practice in European healthcare