There are fears for the viability of the meals on wheels delivery system in Dunedin after reports of recipients cancelling the meals, which are now trucked frozen from Auckland and Tauranga.
A delivery volunteer has spoken out about the quality of the meals, and Age Concern Otago says its delivery runs seem to be getting smaller.
"The old people deserve better than this, they really do,'' meals on wheels volunteer Liz Green said after making deliveries on Thursday.
Since January 18, the meals have been brought frozen from the North Island by the Compass Group, rather than being made in Dunedin Hospital's kitchen.
They are reheated before delivery.
Mrs Green denounced the "watery'' vegetables, slimy custard, and lumpy cheese sauce in a post on social media this week.
"Elderly people know what custard is and should be like - not a yellow slime that is so sweet it goes claggy on the plate,'' her post said.
Contacted by the Otago Daily Times, Mrs Green said the quality of the food was "absolutely yuck''.
The meals were too salty, did not look appetising, and smelt bad, she said.
The potatoes tasted as though they were from a packet, she said. Of eight people on her run, five said they would cancel, or were considering cancelling the meals, she said.
Three said the meals were adequate.
A ninth recipient was not home when the meal was delivered.
Before the change, the meals were "not brilliant'', Mrs Green said, but they were fresh and mostly well cooked.
She feared the situation would damage Age Concern, which co-ordinates the volunteer driver system.
"It's something that's going to reflect so poorly on Age Concern, and they do such amazing work.''
She delivers meals once a fortnight.
Age Concern executive officer Susan Davidson said the organisation had noticed the runs had become smaller, but did not have a full understanding of the situation yet.
"Overall, the runs do seem to be smaller,'' she said.
Cancellations are handled by the health board, and Age Concern did not know how many people had ditched the service.
Mrs Davidson said there was disappointment about the loss of the option to reheat the meals, which had already been reheated at the point of delivery.
Large numbers of cancellations would affect the viability of the delivery service, Mrs Davidson said.
"If the meals are not satisfactory and people choose to leave that service in droves, it will affect us. It will affect our ability to organise the volunteer delivery of meals on wheels.''
The health board is staying tight-lipped about the number of cancellations in the past couple of weeks, and did not respond to a question on the subject yesterday.
Board chief executive Carole Heatly said in a statement Southern was working closely with Compass during the "transition phase''.
Compass was contractually required to meet high nutritional standards, Ms Heatly said.
Compass said in a statement the meals were prepared in Tauranga and Auckland.
"We aim to provide meals that suit the majority of people, but for some, meals may not be to their personal taste. This is particularly so for people who have received the same meals for many years,'' the statement said.
Compass welcomed feedback and would make changes if there were "genuine problems''.
"With a new menu being introduced we would encourage people to take time to try the different meals and provide specific feedback.
"People preferring to eat their meals later in the day will soon be able to order a frozen or chilled meal, as new packaging that can be reheated in the oven or microwave will shortly be introduced.''
Compass took over health board kitchens in October, but until this month meals were produced in Dunedin.
The change affects patient meals, too, but they involve more on-site preparation with pre-prepared ingredients.
The health board outsourced the kitchens despite public opposition. Board members faced down more than 100 opponents in the boardroom of Dunedin's Wakari Hospital, last May before approving the change.
It saves $6.96 million over 15 years in net present value terms.