Health-e (Cape Town)

South Africa: Bara Serves Patients Rotten Food

Food services staff at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital claim that food preparation guidelines and menus designed by the hospital’s dieticians are not followed. Sometimes, patients are served rotten food.

Claims of gross unhygienic practises in the preparation of food at Bara Hospital have surfaced. Staff say patients are being served rotten fruit and other contaminated food stuffs. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a kitchen staff member recounted how patients in the maternity ward were recently served pap cooked from maize meal that was infested with worms.

“There were worms and weasels found in the 50kg of mielie meal in the maternity kitchen, and it was reported to the chief food services manager. She then gave instructions to the supervisors to go and buy a sieve at the Bara mall and to go sieve the 50kg bag of mielie meal. And they had to cook that pap and serve to the patients. The supervisors complained about it because besides the fact that it was unhygienic, it is not an acceptable thing to do for human consumption”, said the kitchen staffer.

Kitchen staff also claim that patients have been fed left-over or rotten food that had been kept in the “pigs-wheel”, a fridge where bad food that would later be collected by pig farmers is kept. Another anonymous employee says in one of the incidents, they were instructed to fetch fruit that was in the pigs-wheel and re-use it.

“The bananas were rotten and, usually when stuff goes off, it will be discarded in the pigs-wheel. That’s when the chief manager instructed one of the supervisors to use it for the patients and make banana bread. Another case was the apples...There was a problem with the temperature of the fridge, so everything got spoilt. She said they should peel them and get the bits and pieces where it is still okay and cook it for the patients. That was served to all 17 paediatric wards - that’s about 300 children”, says the employee.

Our source also says that meat fat is stored and used as cooking oil to prepare food.

“It is excess fat from the meat. When you cook meat and there is fat, you remove it and put it in another container or discard it. But now, the chief food services manager instructed the cooks to keep it in the fridge to use it as a replacement for oil. You can’t re-use fat because it doubles cholesterol”, she says.

She says these practices are not in line with the dietary guidelines of the hospital.

“We are supposed to promote a prudent diet. If the dieticians can realise that pure white fat and drippings from the meat are being used in all the food, they would not accept that. It is not what we promote in the department”.

This means that patients with special or therapeutic diets are not served appropriate food at the hospital.

For instance, vegetarian patients are served food that has been prepared using fat from meat. Our sources also say that vegetables, as per requirement, are not served to patients. At times patients can eat white meat for about two weeks with just a change of starch.

On behalf of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, which refused to comment, the Gauteng Health Department has denied all these claims, stating that the correct procedures are followed in the preparation of food for both therapeutic and normal diets. The department says there is constant communication between food service managers and dieticians.

However, one dietician at the hospital says this is not the case. She says this has been an ongoing problem since 2009 and that dieticians have raised it a number of times with management, but nothing has been done. She says their recommendations are not being implemented.

She adds that the hospital has said that the reason why patients are served spoilt food is that there is insufficient food to go around, due to suppliers not being paid. She laments that the way the kitchen is being run is not standard, from the preparation of the food to the portions served.

Patients also attest to this. One patient from Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, also spoke on condition of anonymity. She stayed at Bara for more than five months and says patients are severely under-fed and malnourished.

“When it comes to lunch, you will be lucky if you get two slices of brown bread. They don’t care if you are a diabetic or Muslim. They take your diet down when you are admitted, even when you request a halaal diet. But when you open your eyes, you’re all eating the same. They don’t supply our bodies with the nutritious food we need. I mean, when you’re in hospital, they’re supposed to take good care of us. But they just give you anything. There is never fruit, they will give you tea with one spoon of sugar... everything they supply us with, they cut the quantity. If they see your family comes regularly, they skip you”, she says.

The patient says because she was admitted for a long time she made an effort to ask questions and find out what was the problem. She says 19 loaves of bread were supposed to be delivered to her ward every morning as per regulation, but only five loaves would be delivered.

“Everyone I have spoken to complains about the same thing - that there is no food in Baragwanath. You can see people haven’t eaten in a while. We were served three meals in a day. They will give you samp today and tomorrow for lunch or even the whole week. There is no juice. If you go to the main kitchen, there are stacks of juices, but we don’t know where that juice goes to because you won’t find it with the patients. The only thing that goes out on time at Bara is the baby bottles. We always used to see them, but food for other patients doesn’t”.

Another patient, known as aunty Hajirah, also from Lenasia, was admitted at Bara for three months. She says the food was appalling.

“We would get food, but not healthy food. People used to complain about the food, especially because we don’t eat the same portions. A lot of people died when I was there because of under nourishment. You can’t give adults food like you give babies... very small portions. I was there for three months and I never got a juice, fruit or dessert. It was very bad. I always used to share my food with other patients”, said aunty Hajirah.

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