UCLA Health System is obviously focused on health. Now that focus has been extended to include its dining facilities. More than 3.4 million meals are served at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. On April 2, UCLA announced that patients, staff and visitors can now dine on healthier version of the traditional burger-and-fries lunch. Both hospitals’ menus now include hamburgers made from antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef and herb roasted potatoes, as well as antibiotic-free chicken breasts. The move places the facilities among the first to offer healthier meals in Southern California. It enhances other initiatives instituted recently by UCLA to promote a healthier community, including banning fried foods, offering “meatless Mondays,” and using biodegradable utensils and plates.
The menu improvements were driven in part by concern about the ever-increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. An overuse of antibiotics in cows, chickens, and other food-producing animals has contributed to making bacteria resistant to commonly used antibiotics, which in turn has led to more antibiotic-resistant infections in humans explained Dr. Daniel Uslan, an assistant clinical professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He noted, “With the effectiveness of key antibiotics dwindling, bacterial resistance presents a major public health challenge, it’s critical that we reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture and support appropriate antibiotic use by clinicians and patients.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 80% of all antibiotics sold in the US are used for food-producing animals. Concern is increasing that the antibiotics are being used primarily to promote faster growth in otherwise healthy animals as well as to compensate for unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions.
UCLA notes that the healthcare community is increasingly establishing policies to help combat antibiotic resistance in patient care and to minimize exposure to unnecessary antibiotics as part of a more comprehensive environmental sustainability plans, including in food service. “We are excited about this new initiative,” noted Dr. David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System. He added, “Serving antibiotic-free beef and chicken is another way for us to do our part and support our vision of a healthier community.”
UCLA Health System notes that it has been recognized nationally for its efforts to promote wellness and sustainability; in 2013, it received awards from Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm for providing more vegetarian menu options, increasing its use of composting, reducing food waste, introducing energy- and water-conservation programs, as well as other initiatives; in addition, UCLA participates in national campaigns including the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Its adoption of antibiotic-free beef and chicken complements University of California system-wide sustainability policies. “We serve more than 3.4 million meals annually between our two hospitals and are always looking for ways to enhance and improve our services,” noted Patricia Oliver, UCLA Health System’s director of nutrition services. Oliver also is the Los Angeles area coordinator for the Healthy Food in Health Care program. Through the program, more than 30 local hospitals and 128 hospitals state-wide leverage their combined health expertise and purchasing power to promote healthier food systems.