Food contractor Compass has given media a tour of its Dunedin Hospital operations, in advance of a public protest outside the hospital on Friday.
The company has been under fire for the quality of its food after the Southern District Health Board (DHB) outsourced its meal supply contract last October.
Patients, relatives, staff and unions have been posting images on social media of unappetising food prepared by Compass as what they claim is proof of lower standards since Compass started supplying meals to hospitals in Otago and Southland.
Compass today said that the images did not represent the typical quality of the meals it supplies, blaming poor presentation of the food - and a six-month initial contract test period.
Today's event allowed reporters to order meals using the same system as hospital patients.
Compass uses computer tablets at the bedside to process the meal requests, which are then prepared to order in the hospital kitchens.
The meal supplied to RNZ News featured a fisherman's pie with mashed potatoes (rice was an alternative), carrots and cabbage.
Compass said it used local Otago suppliers for fruit and vegetables, often the same suppliers that were used before the new contract was introduced.
The 15-year meal supply contract had termination clauses based on key performance measures such as nutritional value, taste and presentation but the company had the right to remedy any issues raised, it said.
Call for end to contract
Tomorrow's protest will call for the Compass contract to be cancelled.
PSA Dunedin union organiser Julie Morton said, in spite of Compass' claims that the standard of its food is high, the union was still getting the same level of complaints from both patients and staff in the city's hospitals.
Ms Morton said she'd heard of one incident when a patient was served just a portion of mashed potato, due to errors in communication involving the new bedside ordering process.
The protest in the street outside the main entrance of Dunedin Hospital at midday on Friday will involve unions, politicians and even a delegation from Invercargill.
Protest organisers reassured hospital managers at a meeting on Wednesday that there was no intention to disrupt the normal running of the hospital.
The tour of the kitchens at Dunedin Hospital also involved other existing Compass customers, who had raised concerns about food quality after seeing negative coverage of patients' meals.
Two representatives from Dunedin's main sports stadiums were involved in the visit, looking for evidence that the operation was not as bad as portrayed by the various lobby groups opposed to the new outsourced meal contract.
In a statement issued after the visit, Compass chief operating officer Julian Baldey said that "a qualitative survey at Dunedin Hospital in the third week of our serving the new menu (February 2016) showed that three quarters of patients were satisfied with their food. This included very positive comments like: 'fresh'; 'tasty'; 'ate it all up'; and 'better than before'.
"We specifically asked patients what improvements could be made and, while 25 percent made comments, some of those reflected personal preferences like 'not enough dressing on the salad', and 'prefer sliced rather than mashed egg'."
Friday's protest will add further fuel to the debate but Compass has made it clear that it has full confidence in the quality and taste of the food it is delivering to patients.