/ Food & Drink, Health

Is hospital food packaging a problem?

yoghurt pot

Have you ever been in hospital and not been able to open a sandwich packet, pack of biscuits or drink carton? Or maybe you’ve seen an elderly patient, friend or relative give up and go hungry?

Difficult-to-open food packs are an annoyance at the best of times, but they become a much more serious problem when it’s patients in hospital who need to open them.

Shouldn’t we expect the NHS to encourage people in hospital to eat by providing them with easy-to-open food packaging?

Which? Conversation commenter Lessismore described the problem on a previous discussion:

‘It isn’t just the nutritional value of the food – it is the way it is served […]

‘This can include grated cheese and salad and flaked tuna in plastic tubs to go with the ubiquitous baked potatoes. The elderly need help to open these pots and help to open the fruit pots and help to open the packed sandwiches and help to open any salad cream or tomato sauce in a small plastic sachet. This is time consuming for the staff too.’

Food should be easy to access

Rica is a sister charity of Which? and specialises in working with disabled and older consumers. We’ve been testing the ease of opening food packaging with Marks & Spencer and Age UK to the new international ISO standard ‘Packaging accessible design – ease of opening’.

We believe that hospitals should be using this new standard to improve patients’ nutrition, independence, dignity and inclusion.

Patients can’t open their food

Helen’s experience demonstrates why this issue is so important:

‘I was unfortunate to end up in hospital last week. I was put on a ward where most of the patients were elderly women. One had previously had a stroke and had recently fallen (which was why she was in). Another clearly could not walk and had to be helped with all her basic needs. When it came to food, I was disgusted.

‘Not only was it packet breakfast cereal, but these poor women couldn’t even open the packet. I helped the lady who had had a stroke as no-one was available to help her.’

What do you think? Is hospital food packaging a problem? What are the worst types of hard-to-open food packages? And what do you think should be done?

This is a guest contribution by Caroline Jacobs, co-director of Rica (Research Institute for Consumer Affairs), Which?’s sister research charity, which focuses on older and disabled consumers. All opinions are Caroline’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


People who design things must never have to use them or many things would be designed and made completely differently .All packaging MUST have to tried to opened by a very elderly person in the dark before it is allowed to be used one whose fingers do not work as well as a younger persons do