NHS Trusts must be more "hard headed" in their negotiations with contract caterers, an influential group of MPs has urged.
In a report on food procurement in the public sector, the Public Accounts Committee said that contract caterers could be earning as much as £95m from volume discount and year-end rebate payments from their suppliers based on the volume of their public sector business, but there is limited awareness of this issue amongst public procurers.
"For too long the food served in public sector institutions has been institutionalised food," said Edward Leigh, chairman of the public accounts committee.
"Negotiations with major contract caterers should be much more hard-headed, especially over the hidden rebates and discounts which those caterers can achieve but too often fail to pass on to the public sector."
The report also warns that "significant deficiencies" in frontline catering skills have to be addressed if patients are to enjoy healthier meals.
It says catering staff often lack the skills to receive and store food efficiently or prepare meals that get the most from the available ingredients.
A commercially experienced on-site chef or manager can realise significant savings, the report argues.
These savings can be achieved by introducing rigorous goods-receivable checks and redesigning menus to increase nutritional quality while balancing more with less expensive dishes to minimise the risk of loss and reduce waste.
By Daniel Thomas