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Frozen effective in providing nutritious hospital meals

20 January 2011

New scientific study highlights frozen food is comparable to ‘fresh’ in providing necessary nutrients for those in hospital care

A new scientific study on hospital food provision has highlighted that frozen food can be just as effective as ‘fresh’ in helping to achieve the National Health Service’s revised nutritional standards for those in hospital care.

Analysing the nutritional content of hospital menus, scientists have established there was no significant difference between ‘fresh’ and frozen food for the 37 key nutrients tested.

On this basis, researchers recommend frozen food as an effective way of providing nutritious meals for those under hospital care. They also highlight additional advantages of using frozen food on a catering scale, such as its contribution towards alleviating cost and time restraints, freeing up of resources which could be spent on the provision, contribution to reducing food waste, improved price stability, availability and convenience.

Conducted by the Centre for Food Innovation at Sheffield Hallam University[1] the Frozen Food – Nutritional Acceptability for Hospital Food Provision study reviewed current use of food for the provision of UK hospital meals, examined the nutritional variation between ‘fresh’ and frozen versions of these foods and evaluated the nutritional impact of using frozen produce for hospital meal provision.

The study reviewed a pilot hospital’s rotational menu in order to review current meal provision, conducted statistical analysis to establish the nutritional content of various food items served at the hospital, carried out independent sample t-tests to determine significant differences between the average values of fresh and frozen food, and evaluated the results of the statistical analysis to establish the nutritional impact of using frozen food for hospital meal provision.

Researcher Charlotte Harden at the Centre for Food Innovation said: “Optimisation of hospital meals is still a major public health concern. Numerous recent commitments have been pledged in order to achieve revised nutritional standards and serve a choice of palatable meals. Frozen food is an effective way of providing adequately nutritious meals for those under hospital care. Our results mirror findings from other recent investigations which conclude that there is no significant evidence that the nutritional quality of food is compromised by freezing[2].”

Brian Young, Director-General of the British Frozen Food Federation said: “This research demonstrates that the current ‘fresh is better than frozen’ opinion is ill-informed. The frozen industry employs rapid harvest and slaughter to freeze methods with the specific purpose of minimising nutrient losses. In contrast, ‘fresh’ food has been shown to spend weeks in the chain of producers, wholesalers and retailers before hospital caterers have the opportunity to use them. During this time we know that product deterioration takes place - to the extent that they can have lower nutritional value than their frozen equivalent.”

Kevan Wallace, Chair of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) said: “This study supports our long held belief that, in broad terms, there is no significant difference in nutritional quality between fresh and frozen produce. I believe that both have a place in the provision of healthy hospital meals. From a hospital catering perspective, a combination of both fresh and frozen presents advantages on many fronts.
“For example, frozen food can help ensure that the freshness of food is preserved during storage and it can also aid preparation as well as the optimum use of cooking facilities. However it is important that, as for the sourcing and purchase of all food products regardless of whether they are fresh or frozen, the ingredients for both must be of equally high quality”.

The Frozen Food – Nutritional Acceptability for Hospital Food Provision study advised that care should be taken to ensure frozen food intended for use in hospital meal provision is selected on the basis of the producers and manufacturers use of quality raw ingredients and well organised processing techniques. They also advised that kitchen staff should ensure food is stored correctly, preparation and cooking times are minimised and long periods of hot-holding are avoided.

The report was jointly commissioned by the British Frozen Food Federation and the Hospital Caterers Association. A downloadable copy of the report and further information on frozen foods for the foodservice industry on can be found on BFFF’s website

[1] The report was jointly commissioned by the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) and the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA)

[2] Young et al., 2010; Harden et al., 2009

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