Patients, staff and visitors to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica can now enjoy menus that include burgers made from antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef and herb roasted potatoes, as well as antibiotic-free chicken breasts.
The medical center positions the move as being in line with its other recently instituted initiatives promoting a healthier community, including banning fried foods, offering "meatless Mondays" and using biodegradable utensils and plates.
"We serve more than 3.4 million meals annually between our two hospitals and are always looking for ways to enhance and improve our services," says Patricia Oliver, UCLA Health System's director of nutrition services. Oliver also is the Los Angeles area coordinator for the Healthy Food in Health Care program, through which more than 30 local hospitals and 128 hospitals state-wide leverage their combined health expertise and purchasing power to promote healthier food systems.
The menu enhancements were spurred in part by concern about bacteria's growing resistance to antibiotics.
According to Dr. Daniel Uslan, an assistant clinical professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, an overuse of antibiotics in cows, chickens and other food-producing animals has helped make bacteria resistant to commonly used antibiotics, which in turn has led to more antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.
"With the effectiveness of key antibiotics dwindling, bacterial resistance presents a major public health challenge," says Uslan, who also is director of the antimicrobial stewardship program at the UCLA Health System. "It's critical that we reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture and support appropriate antibiotic use by clinicians and patients."
According to the Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used for food-producing animals. There is a growing public health concern that the antibiotics are being used mostly to promote faster growth in otherwise healthy animals and to compensate for unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions.
Meanwhile, the health care community is increasingly instituting policies to help combat antibiotic resistance in patient care and to minimize exposure to unnecessary antibiotics as part of broader environmental sustainability plans, including in food service.
"We are excited about this new initiative," says Dr. David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System. "Serving antibiotic-free beef and chicken is another way for us to do our part and support our vision of a healthier community."
The UCLA Health System has been recognized nationally for its efforts to promote wellness and sustainability, receiving awards in 2013 from Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm for offering more vegetarian menu options, increasing its use of composting, reducing food waste, launching energy- and water-conservation programs, and other initiatives; and it participates in national campaigns including the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. The health system's adoption of antibiotic-free beef and chicken complements University of California system-wide sustainability policies.