January 5, 2009

Feature: Hospitals Cope With Growing Demand for Kosher

New York…In the Tri-State area’s giant hub of kosher food, an industry that is a major kosher-food provider often gets overlooked. Yet the main hospitals in New York City, as well as hospitals in other major markets, are dealing with an increased demand by patients, their families, visitors and staff. At the Maimonides Medical Center in the heart of Boro Park in Brooklyn, the entire kitchen is completely glatt kosher, producing approximately 3,500 kosher meals a day. It is the only hospital in the region that serves kosher exclusively in all its facilities, including its cafeterias and even at staff meetings. Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Medical Center has a small in-house kitchen, certified by the Orthodox Union, with both a dairy and meat chef. It provides kosher food to about 100 of the medical center’s 900 patients. The kosher kitchen produces another 150 meals available for purchase in the cafeteria each day, and supplements catering at hospital events for kosher attendees.

Most other hospitals deal with lower volumes of kosher consumers, visitors and staff via their food services departments. They typically order kosher meals from local caterers and vendors. Lenox Hill Hospital and New York University Medical Center, for example, both in Manhattan, serve an average of 15 kosher patients a day in this way. Long Island Jewish Medical Center had its own kosher kitchen, but closed it down almost 20 years ago because it was not cost effective. The hospital still provides almost 100 kosher meals a day. The meals are typically frozen then heated before being served to patients, and supplies of kosher bread and dairy products are delivered fresh. One hospital nutritionist described how an increasing number of the standard packaged foods, such as cookies and juices, are becoming kosher certified and can be added to the kosher meals. Kosher food is also available for hospital personnel and visitors in the cafeterias. Usually the options are the same meals received by the patients, with an assortment of sandwiches and salads. All incoming food is sealed and supervised by the hospitals’ chaplain rabbi.

Despite outsourcing the kosher meals, hospitals strive to offer kosher patients a complete range of options. Staff nutritionists attempt to accommodate each patient’s strict dietary, cultural and personal preferences. The NYU Medical Center even orders sushi from Midtown Manhattan restaurant Circa NY. Hospital officials say that they have noticed an increase in the demand for kosher food, mostly for religious reasons. Kosher purveyors report increased inquiries from hospitals about kosher food products. A number of hospital food service personnel visited last November’s Kosherfest. Some nutritionists expressed concerns about the quality of some of the frozen meals for patients who clearly need better nutritional foods.