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A hospital union representative from Hamilton has launched a campaign to bring fresh food to patients, and says public input is welcome.

The Keep Hospitals Cooking campaign, which kicked off in May, aims to pressure the hospitals to serve freshly prepared food instead of frozen, reheated meals.

Kevin Cook, Area 2 vice-president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, spearheaded the campaign. He said hospitals have switched from preparing food in-house to contracting food service out to factories over the years due to budget cutbacks.

“[The patients] are supposed to get healthy and they are not getting that with the frozen food,” he told CBC Hamilton.

A St. Joseph s Hospital employee for 23 years, Cook said the quality of food has deteriorated over the years since he first started working there in the kitchen.

“We use to cook everything fresh. Now everything is frozen and reheated,” he said.

There was little waste when food was prepared in-house, Cook said. For example, when the chefs were roasting meat, the drippings were used to make gravy and the bones were also served.

In contrast, Cook said, frozen food, which many patients find less appetizing, means more food is wasted. The packaging also means more plastics end up in the landfills.

The campaign team has visited several cities in the province since the campaign was launched and talked to visitors in front of local hospitals.

Another goal of the campaign is to bring more local food to patients, Cook said, as many of the hospitals are located in areas with farms nearby.

On their campaign tour, Cook said his team learned that in one hospital, the chicken was brought from Thailand.

“That s quite concerning especially when you can get that stuff locally,” he said.

Beyond pressuring the hospitals, Cook added, the campaign is aimed at lobbying governments to put healthy food guidelines for hospitals in place. 

“They started that with the schools to [make] healthy choices, but not in the healthcare field,” he said.

The public can participate in the campaign by submitting their experiences — good and bad — and suggestions to admin@ochu.on.ca.

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