In 2006, Fletcher Allen Health Care of Burlington, VT, became one of the first hospitals in the country to sign the Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) pledge. Since then, more than 250 healthcare institutions and management companies operating in healthcare environments have followed suit (management companies sign a slightly different Contractor Pledge than self-ops).
Signatories to HFHC pledge to menu healthy, local (as much as possible), sustainable dishes and to model healthy food practices in their dining operations.
“We were already doing many of the things in the pledge in minor ways,” says Fletcher Allen Nutrition Services Director Diane Imrie, RD. “Signing it was a clear signal to the market that we were serious.”
“Our industry needs to pay closer attention to the food we purchase, how it's harvested and how it affects society's health and well being,” noted CEO Scott MacLellan of Morrison Management Specialists, a signatory of the HFHC Contractor Pledge.
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Imrie, who has become one of the leading proponents of the HFHC's goals, says the psychology of signing the pledge is a powerful tool to advance the cause of menuing healthier and more sustainable dishes in hospitals.
“It commits you to going forward because you made this promise,” she says. “Once you do that, it becomes harder to fall back.”
At Fletcher Allen, Imrie has upped local purchasing to the point that about 30 percent of her supply needs are met from nearby sources at the height of the summer, when local farms are producing at their peak.
Other than seasonal produce, local products regularly used in Fletcher Allen kitchens include proteins like chicken and beef, dairy, honey and even herbs from the localest of sources — the hospital's own herb garden. (A rooftop vegetable garden is expected to open this year as well.)
Imrie also hosted her first winter farmers market at the hospital recently, with 10 vendors and more than 600 attendees. The electronic payment records alone showed more than $3,300 in sales.
The imperatives being pushed by HFHC are gaining traction across the segment, says Kris Schroeder, nutrition services director at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and current president of the newly formed Association for healthcare Foodservice (AHF).
Schroeder, whose facility signed the HFHC pledge in 2008, says more contacts between AHF and HFHC are likely in the future once AHF navigates the more immediate issues associated with its formation through the merger of two previously independent healthcare foodservice organizations.
“Looking at such alliances is something that is in our strategic plan,” she notes.
In the meantime, Schroeder says she is working with AHF's local chapter to promote the issue of sustainable sourcing and sustainable practices.
What's In the HFHC Pledge
There's insufficient room here to reproduce the entire HFHC pledge, but the document commits signatories to…
- increase the menuing of fresh produce and “minimally processed, unrefined” foods
- implement a sustainable food procurement program
- work with local producers
- encourage vendors to source product from suppliers who don't use toxic pesticides, hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics and treat their workers fairly
- support producers who practice sustainable and humane agricultural systems
- communicate and educate customers and the community about just and sustainable food practices
- minimize and recycle waste
For a full text of the pledge, go to www.noharm.org/lib/downloads/food/Healthy_Food_in_Health_Care.pdf