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Hospital crockery goes blue following “incredible” waste reduction trial

Coloured crockery is to be introduced at Solent’s community hospitals after trials showed it cut food waste by 20%.

The dramatic reduction – caused simply by switching from traditional white crockery to blue – has been described as “incredible” by the Trust’s catering boss.

Iain Robertson, who has just become national chair of the Hospital Caterers’ Association (HCA), said the results meant more patients were eating more food which, in turn, aided recovery.

"This experiment was so simple but immediately had a massive impact," said Iain, a former NHS chef.

Plate waste – food left uneaten by patients – was already low at Solent’s community hospitals following a change in menus, the introduction of electronic meal ordering and new methods of food waste monitoring.

Catering managers were confident they had already made significant progress and weren’t sure the trial would have much impact.

For the first four weeks, it was business as usual for the ward catering staff, who dished out normal sized portions on the usual white crockery. Any leftovers were weighed as before, but the team now also recorded the number of empty plates.

For the second four weeks, catering staff served the same food and portion sizes but this time using cornflower blue plates and bowls.

Within days, there was a noticeable improvement in the number of patients finishing their meals.

At the end of the eight-week trial, monitored by NHS England, there had been a 20.6% decrease in plate waste and an increase of 14% in the number of empty plates.

Iain, who has led catering operations at Solent NHS Trust for the past five years, said: "We were blown away by these statistics due to the nutritional impact this will have on our patients, along with the improved patient experience.

"Putting it simply, if patients are better nourished, they recover quicker and get home sooner."

The trial took place on two rehab wards at the Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton.

Feedback from patients was described as "phenomenal", with some saying the coloured crockery gave their hospital meals a restaurant feel.

Iain said the findings were so impressive that they could not be ignored. As a result, all ward crockery at Solent’s community hospitals will become blue within a matter of days.

"The research is based on the theory that coloured crockery makes food look more attractive and prompts the appetite," he said.

"It is such an easy change to make but the result is incredible. If hospitals across the country follow suit, the outcome could be staggering."

As chair of the HCA, a prestigious national body which influences government policy on hospital food, Iain said he would be spreading the word about coloured crockery.

Trials initially involved dementia patients but more recently attention has turned to trying the concept in both acute and community hospital settings.

Blue was chosen at Solent as there are no naturally blue coloured foods; meaning that the colour helps pale foods like chicken, mashed potato and porridge stand out.

It is associated with peace and calm and is also the last colour on the spectrum recognised by dementia patients.

The blue crockery will be rolled out to community wards at the Royal South Hants Hospital and Western Community Hospital in Southampton, along with St Mary’s Community Health Campus in Portsmouth, at the start of May.

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