Stories of Food Waste at NYC Hospitals and Restaurants

Here is another story of waste from my mother who works in the nursing unit at Gouverneur Hospital.

My mother works at a long-term care nursing unit at Gouverneur Hospital where she cares for patients who are disabled. There is always a lot of heated debate as to what level of care people who are at the tail end of their lives should be getting because the health care costs far exceed the premiums paid.  She says since the public hospital is short-staffed the nurses do not get to changing patient’s diapers quick enough and limits the changing to two diapers a day. If you have an accident then you just have to wait till the next time they change diapers which could be hours. There are other horror stories about how she has seen a patients tranquilized or had a sock stuffed in their mouth for being disruptive. For this reason some patients use their own money to hire caretakers such as my mother.

My mother came home the other day with sliced white bread and fruit cups which were not opened or used. She said that the hospital’s policy is anything that is given to a patient and unopened still ends up being disposed of.  In addition they take perfectly good food that is unopened, uneaten and not expired and tell their staff to throw it immediately into the garbage when they get new food shipments. I was always under the impression that if packaged foods given to patients was not opened or used they could be given to others who need it.

My mother says this practice is rampant at organizations that are government funded to give the impression to auditors that their food resources are being used when in fact they are not.

Another example is Plaza Deli at 127 John Street in downtown Manhattan where I went to a weekday night (9pm) and I noticed staff setting out freshly cooked food. (First of all who sets out freshly cooked food at 9pm in the financial district at that time) I returned after my gym workout (10pm) and found them emptying that same food into garbage bags. Usually most buffets have what I believe is a negligible amount of food. But their buffet looks like it is ready for the lunch hour rush in the late evening.

You would think that with rising food costs these people would take inventory at the end of the night and realize how much food is being wasted and adjust their estimates for the next day. I spoke to the night manager about it and he simply shrugged his shoulders. What shocked me even more was he was Korean and did not know about the North Korean famine in the late 1990s where it is estimated almost a million people died from hunger. What sort of backwards thinking is this and how do these people stay in business? This business could offer a discount after peak hours for the remaining f0od on their buffet or simply make less food. Or stop making food a hours before closing. The food is a sunk cost that is unrecoverable.

I tried to see if this food could be donated to non-profits organizations such as City Harvest. However they can not accept food that has been on a buffet table. My mother says that this is common practice of disgruntled workers who are underpaid and undervalued to sabotage the business in the food-service industry. She said that when she worked at the Golden Unicorn Restaurant when I was growing up that workers would drink some of the chicken broth which had been brewing for hours before the manager came in, refilling it with water.

Here are a few articles about food waste.

The Battle Against Food Waste


1 Comment

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One response to “Stories of Food Waste at NYC Hospitals and Restaurants

  1. Grover Mannings

    Wow that is incredible! Delis that setup at 9 PM and then end up tossing their buffets in the trash should be ashamed of themselves. A discount is a great idea to at least break even on the money spent to prepare the food. Better yet, if no one is around to eat it, offer it to homeless people: I’m sure they’re NOT picky as to whether or not it has been sitting on a buffet stand for an hour. Plus, it would be great publicity for a struggling restaurant, since people would want to support an altruistic business.

    The story your mother recounted about the Gouverneur Hospital is also rather disturbing but an all too common reality for elderly patient care. Health care costs are highest among those essentially “waiting to die” (forgive the terse phrase). Many debate whether people at this stage of life should be just be put to rest since that is where they’re headed in the short term anyway. Some states, such as Oregon, have what is called a “Dying with dignity” statute that allows people with terminal illness to end their lives on their own terms. This is somewhat similar to what Dr. Jack Kevorkian did, although people took issue with his methods and motives.

    Through my travels in Latin America I’ve noted two things topical to Dick’s blog. One, there are no rest homes. Families are expected to take care of their aging relatives on their own. Two, most governments practice socialism (to a degree) and fund health care publicly. No, there are no death panels as Sarah Palin once stated. Instead, people are treated for their conditions as much as they can be and the rest is up to the family.

    Although the burden of taking care of a loved one in their twilight years is immense, it does speak to the family values people have “South of the border”. The thought of institutionalizing the elderly is neither considered nor a realistic option.

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