I'd like to take food to a friend who's in the hospital. Is there anything I should know?

Answer From Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D.

Good question. You wouldn't want this act of kindness to have unintended and even deadly consequences for someone who is hospitalized.

Here are some general guidelines to consider before you bring a meal or special treat to the hospital:

  • Before you bring food in, check with the nurse, doctor or dietitian. Your loved one may be at risk of infection or may need to follow a very strict diet. In some situations, even normal bacteria in foods (such as uncooked items like fruits or salads) or excess nutrients (such as those containing vitamin K, or unknown substances like gluten or allergens) can be dangerous.
  • If you get the OK to bring food in, make sure you prepare food safely. The Department of Agriculture has excellent information on its website about food safety for people who are vulnerable to infection. Throughout the steps of food preparation, it's important to follow the mantra:
    1. Clean. Wash your hands, utensils and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
    2. Separate. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from foods that won't be cooked.
    3. Cook. Use a food thermometer — you can't tell food is cooked safely by how it looks.
    4. Chill. Refrigerate foods within two hours and keep the fridge at 40 F or below.
  • Bring only enough food that can be eaten at one time. Consider single-serve items, such as individual yogurts, packages of crackers and peanut butter, and wrapped cookies. That way there are no leftovers to worry about.
  • Don't store perishable foods in the room. In addition to being unsafe, they can be unappetizing.
  • Label all food items. Put the name of your loved one on the food container and the date that the food was prepared. You don't want your kind intention causing problems for another patient.

These are basic guidelines. It's a good idea to check with the hospital you're visiting to see if it has more-specific requirements.

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Aug. 27, 2020 See more Expert Answers

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