Department of Health

Healthy and high-quality food in public hospitals and aged care facilities

Key messages

  • The Victorian Government is committed to ensuring that food served in our public hospitals and public sector residential aged care services is healthy, of quality, and where possible, locally sourced, supporting Victorian farmers and producers.
  • To achieve this, a comprehensive review of public hospital and residential aged care facility food services was undertaken in 2019-20.
  • The review assessed the nutritional value, quality (including taste, variety and cultural diversity) and origin of the food served in public hospitals and aged care services across Victoria.
  • All Victorian public hospitals and public aged care services will be required to follow new health and quality food standards.
  • Food currently served in our public hospitals and public aged care services is of high quality and nutritious. This review aimed to build on this and look at further opportunities to improve cultural diversity, variety and sourcing of local food.
  • For key review findings and recommendations, please download the summary report.

Why is this initiative important?

  • Nutritious food supports healthy ageing and is essential for optimal patient treatment and recovery. Food also provides a sense of wellbeing and emotional comfort and is an important expression of cultural identity.
  • Poor nutrition is common and significantly contributes to the burden of disease. In Victoria, the community cost of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, many cancers, obesity and some mental health disorders is substantial and growing.
  • The Targeting zero: report of the review of hospital safety and quality assurance in Victoria found that malnutrition is a common preventable hospital-acquired complication.  
  • Food is more than a vital component to supporting health. Providing food that meets preferences for taste and variety is particularly important for aged care residents.
  • Sourcing of local and Victorian grown and produced food, where possible, will contribute to the provision of healthy and high-quality food and support local economies.

About the review

The review was informed by existing government policy, including:

A project reference group provided overarching guidance and comprised key stakeholders, including representation from metropolitan, rural and regional health services, central production kitchens, public sector residential aged care services, dietitians, food service management, Health Purchasing Victoria and a consumer (patients/aged care residents) representative.

What was in scope of the review?

The review, conducted from October 2019 to February 2020, covered foods and drinks provided to inpatients and aged care residents in Victorian public hospitals and Victorian public sector residential aged care facilities:

  • At the bedside – via the general inpatient/resident menu (Full Ward Diet) and
  • Through retail food outlets (in house) and all vending machines located in health services.

It assessed:

  • The nutritional value (healthiness according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines)
  • Quality – including taste, variety and cultural diversity
  • Patients'/consumers' experience of the food
  • Whether the food is locally produced in Victoria.

What was not in scope of the review?

The following matters were not within the scope of the review: 

  • Therapeutic/medically required diets (except ‘soft’ and ‘minced moist’ texture modified diets).
  • Private retailers i.e. retail food outlets (cafes, kiosks, franchises, convenience outlets) located on health service premises that operate under a lease or sublease arrangement.
  • Food safety (hospitals already abide by strict food safety regulations and standards).
  • Non-government residential aged care facilities and non-government hospitals. 
  • Local food procurement practices of retail food outlets within health services.

Consumer consultation

In addition to online surveys and site visits of health services, the review included feedback from the Victorian community about food served in our health services. There was feedback from a public survey on the Engage Victoria website and from hospital patients via the Victorian Health Experience Survey. In addition, residents living in some of our public residential aged care facilities were consulted about their lived experience regarding food.

Next steps

The development of new and revised nutrition and quality food standards for patients and aged care residents is underway. In addition, new standards for paediatric patients are being developed.

Other recommendations will be implemented in a phased approach, based on priority and available resources. 

More information

Key review findings and recommendations, can be found in the summary report, which can be downloaded.

Media release - Nutritious, quality, local food for hospitals and aged care.

Healthy choices: providing and promoting healthier food choices through hospital retail and vending

Hospitals and health services play an essential leadership role in providing healthier food and drink options to support the health and wellbeing of their workforce and visitors.

From mid-2021, public health services are required to implement the Healthy choices: policy directive for Victorian public health services (Policy directive). This policy directs these services to ensure that healthier food and drinks are sold, provided and promoted at their facilities.

This new Policy directive applies to all sites/facilities across Victorian public health services, including but not limited to public hospitals, public sector residential aged care services (PSRACS) and integrated community health services. It covers in-house managed retail food outlets, all vending machines, all catering, and items purchased by staff and visitors from patient/resident menus.

It is based on the existing Healthy choices: food and drink classification guide and policy guidelines for hospitals and health services, for food, with a new requirement for high sugar (RED category) drinks not to be sold, provided or promoted in any in-house managed retail food outlets, all vending and all catering.

There will be a phased approach to implementation, with health services required to meet all policy requirements by 30 September 2023.

Many health services are already implementing the Healthy Choices guidelines in all of their retail food outlets (privately contracted and in-house). They are encouraged to continue this work in order to help meet the Victorian Cancer Plan 2024 target of “at least 80 per cent of health services meeting Healthy Choices”.

The Healthy Choices policy directive and guidelines are included in the Policy and funding guidelines for health services.

Note: the Healthy Choices policy directive and guidelines do not apply to inpatient and residential aged care meals or food and drinks that staff and visitors bring from outside the facility. Inpatient and residential aged care food services are guided by the Nutrition standards for menu items in Victorian public hospitals and residential aged care facilities

Advice, training and resources for implementing the Healthy Choices policy directive and guidelines are available from the Healthy Eating Advisory Service.

For more information and to view the Policy directive and guidelines visit the Healthy choices for retail outlets, vending machines and catering section.

Reviewed 15 November 2021

Health.vic

Contact details

Healthy food project team

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