Caterers have defended themselves after a report by the Liberal Democrats slammed the standards of hygiene and cleanliness in English hospital kitchens and canteens.
The survey of 370 hospitals, published on Monday (13 August), claimed nearly half (46%) of all hospitals and/or canteens in England could be failing to meet cleanliness and hygiene standards.
It also suggested that nearly a fifth of hospitals surveyed kept food at the wrong temperatures or in unsafe conditions, while 11 hospitals had problems with vermin.
However, many of the major private contractors - about 40% of catering services in the NHS are outsourced - were surprised at the findings and questioned how such alleged high levels of failure could be possible in what is a highly regulated system.
Simon Cox, managing director at ISS Mediclean, said: "We take a proactive approach to training our staff to ensure good hygiene standards and have both internal audits and an external company monitoring us, as well as environmental health.
"I'm very surprised at the findings as there are some very, very tight standards we have to meet and we're extensively monitored as a third party, perhaps even more so than in-house caterers."
Ian El-Mokadem, UK chief executive at Compass, which owns hospital caterer Medirest, echoed Cox's words and insisted that food hygiene and cleaning standards were taken very seriously. "All our hospital kitchens are cleaned thoroughly according to strict guidelines and procedures, with additional deep cleans on a regular basis. Daily and weekly cleaning tasks are monitored and reported," he said.
Neil Watson-Jones, chairman of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), added: "If you want high standards you have to give time, the facilities and, in some cases, extra financial allowance to do it.
"Too many departments are running with a minimum of staff, which means getting them through full training is difficult."
• For more response from the HCA, see next week's issue.
By Chris Druce
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