Hospital cook calls it quits after 33 years

18:51, Jul 01 2013
noeline renton
DOWNSIZING: The only food preparation retired hospital cook Noeline Renton will do from now on is on her own.

Noeline Renton has heard it all when it comes to hospital food - she has prepared it for the last 33 years.

This week was going to be her final five days' work but a fall resulting in broken ribs forced her to leave slightly prematurely.

In 1980 Mrs Renton was offered a casual position at Talbot Hospital by the late Ailsa Bailey.

"Three weeks later I was the first cook," she said.

When a fire broke out in the Otipua Block in 1992 the cooking was moved to Timaru Hospital. Catering for patients at both hospitals totalled about 370 meals a day - something that has not changed.

But what has changed is how food is cooked. Mrs Renton said roasts were cooked in animal fat until the 1990s and they used to offer a cooked breakfast with bacon, chops, sausages and eggs.


"Now it's Weet-Bix, fruit and yoghurt for breakfast."

A lot of butter had been cut out of recipes and not many items were made from scratch any more. A scone mix, prepared dessert and vegetables arrived from Christchurch. Staff numbers had also been cut, making it a busy work place.

Mrs Renton said her time in the kitchen had been fun. She worked as second cook, and first cook at the weekends.

In recent years there had been a lot more demand for individual menus from patients with allergies, diabetes or needing gluten-free food, and she said hygiene standards had become more stringent - the temperatures of meat and vegetable must be over 77 degrees Celsius and the fridge below 4 degrees.

All the information from the receipt of the food to the moment it reaches the patient is now recorded. Mrs Renton said she could not recall any food poisoning cases in the days before the report writing and when they cooked in bulk.

And the question everyone wants answered: Has she eaten hospital food?

"Yes, I was in hospital three years ago for seven days. And the food was fine."

The Timaru Herald