What does hospital food have to do with environmental responsibility?
By Chip Goyette, Director of Sustainability, Inova Health System
We here in the Inova sustainability team were thrilled to recently roll out an exciting initiative: The elimination of antibiotic-fed chicken products in our hospital cafeterias. In May 2018, Inova hospital cafeterias switched over to all No Antibiotics Ever chicken breast with the help of the Sustainability team and Morrison Foods.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with our goal of promoting environmental sustainability?
The short answer is, a lot. The processes by which we get our food, as well as what we are eating, have a direct impact on our environment and our health. Additionally, buying locally-sourced ingredients, meats free of routine antibiotics, and eating seasonally all contribute to reducing our environmental impact. I am proud to say that the company I work for understands these principles, and supports my team in our efforts.
Getting people talking: “Chef’s Table” events
To bring attention to the initiative for employees and hospital visitors, we recently held Chef’s Table events at each of our hospital cafés. A custom antibiotic-free chicken meal was on offer for the day, and we had literature available to explain the issues around antibiotic-fed meats, and to help customers understand the benefits of this decision.
“Keep antibiotics healing”
Research has shown that antibiotic overuse in animals contributes to antibiotic resistant infections in humans. By serving chicken breast raised without routine use of antibiotics, we are helping to keep antibiotics working in humans. (While we acknowledge that it is still important to treat animals with antibiotics when they are sick, research is showing that it is better for human health and the welfare of animals to raise them without routine or excessive use of antibiotics.)
An article from Health Care Without Harm, a national non-profit organization dedicated to sustainability in healthcare, elaborates on how we must work to end the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture in order to keep them working in humans:
“Each year 23,000 Americans die as a result of antibiotic resistant infections. Longer, more expensive hospital stays for treating resistance cost the U.S. health care industry an estimated $21 to $34 billion annually and an additional eight million hospital days. Evidence is mounting that these numbers will only grow.”
Based on 2017 data, Inova served 235,626 pounds of chicken with 19% of that (43,743 pounds) being chicken raised without routine antibiotics. As of now, it is just the chicken breasts that have been completely switched to No Antibiotic Ever in our five hospital cafeterias.
Related article – Health Care Without Harm: Understanding meat and poultry labels
According to Practice Greenhealth, the leading membership and networking organization for sustainable health care that Inova is a member of, there are 400 health systems working toward making a minimum of 20% of the meat they serve raised without routine antibiotics.
Other sustainable food goals at Inova
Inova is also working on fully converting to other sustainable food items such as RBGH-free milk and yogurt, sustainably caught seafood, cage free eggs, and fair trade coffee. This does include retail sales in the cafeterias as well as the food served to inpatients.
I am proud that our No Antibiotics Ever initiative is just one part of Inova’s commitment to ensure we are helping our employees, patients, visitors and guests improve their environmental impact – leading to actions that will help both ourselves, and our planet.