UCLA hospitals begin using antibiotic-free meat

Chicken breasts and ground beef are on the menu; more beef and chicken may follow.

LOS ANGELES—UCLA Health System has joined the University of California San Francisco Medical Center in offering antibiotic-free proteins on its patient and retail menus. Patti Oliver, director of nutrition services, says last week the health system began using antibiotic-free chicken breasts, ground beef patties and ground beef. Last fall, the UCSF Medical Center began serving hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken breasts.

“We are menuing about 700 pounds of chicken breasts, 100 pounds of beef patties and about 60 pounds of ground beef per week,” Oliver says. “We are in the process of looking at chicken quarters, stewing beef and tri-tips as well.”

The move by UCLA follows mandates by the president of the University of California system, who at the start of the decade set a goal of every institution within the system having 20% of its food items be considered sustainable by the year 2020. Oliver says her facility already has surpassed that percentage, having 24% of her menu using sustainable items. “But we’re still wanting to increase that number,” she adds.

The biggest challenge in making the switch has been price. Oliver says her department, along with other hospitals in the areas, has been working with vendors during the past year to leverage their purchasing power in an attempt to bring prices down. Oliver is the Los Angeles area organizer of the Healthy Food in Health Care program (a health and sustainable food program from Health Care Without Harm), which involves some 35 hospitals.

They have succeeded to the point that, Oliver notes, cafeteria prices for chicken dishes have not increased.

“We have not raised our prices. We have been able to negotiate a price point that means our annual increase (in chicken prices) will be less than $20,000,” she explains. “We are looking at finding other savings to compensate for that. I do feel that if, eventually, we need to increase prices a bit that it will be well-accepted, because we have received so many positive comments about the change.”

One reason driving hospitals to consider the use of antibiotic-free proteins is the problem of antibiotic resistance. In a press release from UCLA, Dr. Daniel Uslan, director of the health system’s antimicrobial stewardship program, noted that the overuse of antibiotics in food animals has had the unintended side effect of causing more antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.

"With the effectiveness of key antibiotics dwindling, bacterial resistance presents a major public health challenge," Uslan was quoted in the release. "It's critical that we reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture and support appropriate antibiotic use by clinicians and patients."