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Hospital food is often a kitchen nightmare and easy fodder for the food critics, but that is all about to change at Dunedin Hospital. A kitchen upgrade, introduction of new pod technology and a new menu have the staff aiming to lead the country in food service. Health reporter Edith Schofield reports.
New technology has arrived in Dunedin Hospital's upgraded kitchen to keep patient meals steaming hot all the way from the basement to bedsides on the eighth floor.
The new technology is part of an almost $1 million upgrade of the kitchen service, which included renovating and extending the 25-year-old kitchen and updating kitchen equipment.
Patients' meals are cooked and served on to plates before food trays are loaded into pods which are then taken to the heating station where they are docked in nesting bays which boost the temperature of the food to about 70degC.
Each pod holds 30 trays and keeps the food hot for up to an hour.
Otago District Health Board executive chef Sarah Marshall said Dunedin Hospital was the first in New Zealand and Australia to use the pod technology.
"The idea is we want to showcase Dunedin Hospital. We want to lead the country in food service.
"You can't provide better food until you have got the facilities to cook it in."
New patient menus are being developed and an improved "interim" menu has already been introduced, which includes choices such as crumbed chicken breast pan roasted until golden brown and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, or steak, mushrooms and onions braised with thyme and rich stock.
The new menu would be introduced once staff had adapted to the new technology and cooking methods.
The content of the new menu was being kept secret until next month, but Ms Marshall said she was "really excited" about it.
"I think people will be pleasantly surprised."
Along with the introduction of diabetes-friendly and pureed meals, healthy-heart and gluten-free options would also be added, she said.
Cooking for hospital patients was more challenging than many people realised, as it involved cooking for people who were ill, she said.
Any spicy or heavy food was out, and a large folder sits on a shelf in Ms Marshall's office containing all the special diets and food restrictions some patients have.
"Most people [in hospital] need much softer food which is easier to digest. That normally means some kind of stew, so we don't just make stew because we can't think of anything else to do.
"People can be pretty hard on food. Everybody is a bit of an expert on food, but unless you are down here you can't appreciate how hard it is."
For the past four to five months, food had been cooked in an "extremely small" kitchen at Wakari Hospital, while the renovations were under way. Staff were split between the two hospitals and the food had to be transported by truck.
"It was hard work and very stressful," Ms Marshall said.
The pods have been in use since the start of the year, but the nesting bays in the heating station could not be used until the renovation and extension of the kitchen was completed.
Kitchen staff were thrilled with the new kitchen, she said.
"Everybody is smiling. There is room to move and it is bright and airy.
"Before the upgrade we didn't have any airconditioning. We were hotter than the food.
"The upgrade has improved our working conditions 200%."
Bite-sized facts from the Dunedin Hospital kitchen:
• 46,000 meals cooked every month.
• Takes just over an hour to load 320 meals into "pods".
• More than 14,000 eggs used in one month.
• About 160kg of carrots and 120kg of peas used in a week.
• More than 60 loaves of bread and 100 litres of milk consumed every day.
• Hot food served about 70degC and cold food about 6degC.