A new menu of tasty treats for patients suffering from coeliac disease has been put to the test at an Aberdeen hospital.
The kitchen at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary recently became the first in Scotland to be awarded Coeliac UK accreditation.
Coeliac disease is a common digestive condition where the small intestine becomes inflamed and unable to absorb nutrients.
It is thought that 1 in 100 people have the condition, however, research by charity Coeliac UK shows that only 30% of those who have the illness have been diagnosed.
The charity also found that 79% of hospital visitors with coeliac disease find eating in hospitals difficult or very difficult.
The Evening Express joined members of the public who suffer from the condition at an interactive lunchtime session to test out the new accredited menu.
The testers tucked into dishes including chicken curry and rice, salmon fillet with vegetables and potatoes and pasta bolognese – and the menu got the thumbs up.
Aberdeen Royal Infirmary catering manager, Stuart Donald, hopes the new accreditation will reassure patients.
He said: “The accreditation will hopefully ease any anxieties or fears patients with coeliac disease who are admitted to hospital may have.
“Most patients come in with a little bit of worry around their stay anyway and some of that is to do with food.
“They don’t know what they’re going to get or how well they will be catered for with a gluten-free diet. For patients with coeliac disease, it is really a safety worry.
“As much as we can tell somebody our food is safe and their meal is gluten free, having the Coeliac UK accreditation really offers reassurance to patients that they don’t have to worry about it at all.”
Attendees at the interactive session found out where NHS Grampian sources the produce that goes into the 2,000 meals they serve every day, as well as the measures kitchen staff take to avoid cross contamination.
Stuart added: “Most food safety processes within a kitchen revolve around avoiding cross contamination of some type.
“When it comes to coeliac disease, it is just adding in another level of cross contamination – which is flour.
“There are a few measures we have to put in place in the kitchen to combat this, including protective storage, separated cooking procedures and ensuring nothing crosses over during serving.”
Coeliacs also had the chance to sample a meal from the hospital’s new gluten-free menu, which features a range of new and improved options including pasta bolognese, sweet and sour chicken with rice and salmon fillet with vegetables and potatoes.
Ruth McGill, group organiser of Aberdeen and North-East Coeliac Group, said the experience was “enlightening”.
She added: “The fact that we have a hospital on our doorstep that has been accredited by Coeliac UK is absolutely brilliant and it will make the lives of those with the condition who are admitted to hospital a lot easier.
“It’s traumatic enough having to come to hospital, without having to worry about what you’re going to get to eat, so it’s really good.
“People don’t need to worry as much knowing that the kitchen area is so safe and has separate areas for food preparation. It’s going to be a huge help.
“My meal was very good, and the fact that we get a wide choice, which wasn’t the usual fruit salad or baked potato, was excellent.
“Usually you get very little choice when you have coeliac disease, especially when it comes to puddings.”
Liz Howarth, public involvement officer with NHS Grampian, said: “Come Dine With Me was born out of that desire to try to find new and innovative ways to involve members of the public, and allow them to come up to ARI and give some feedback.
“We’ve been running Come Dine With Me for about a year now, but with the accreditation being awarded recently, this event is something we’ve been really excited about.
“We’d like to really encourage people to get involved in our work, so you can contact the public involvement team by emailing email@example.com”