Hundreds of people have held a noisy protest outside Dunedin Hospital, calling for the cancellation of the food supply contract for hospitals in Otago and Southland.
The protesters, from Dunedin and Invercargill, want the new 15-year contract with the Compass Group replaced with the previous arrangement, which involved meals being prepared on hospital premises.
Compass prepares much of its food in the North Island and then freights it south.
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt, who attended the protest, told RNZ News he believed the contract with Compass should be ended because of the poor quality of the food being delivered.
He said the campaign to cancel the contract was being motivated by complaints from inside the hospital.
"The real emotional speeches that came out today were the actual patients, the people who have to eat this food. And they feel extremely strongly about it."
The food has been defended by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, who even ate a meal himself.
Critics, however, said it wasn't the same food patients were being served.
Southern DHB chief executive Carole Heatly said some of the information being circulated by the contracts' opponents did not provide the whole truth.
Compass' patient satisfaction survey indicated that 75 percent were satisfied with or neutral about the meals, she said.