By Brenna Davis, M.S. [@brennadavis7], Director of Sustainability, Virginia Mason
Hospital food doesn’t have the best reputation for freshness, taste and sustainability. Virginia Mason is changing all of that. We announced recently that we are the first hospital in the United States to earn Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for our commitment to serving seafood grown and harvested by certified, environmentally sustainable methods.
In addition to MSC seafood, we also serve locally grown organic produce, local grass-fed beef, antibiotic-free chicken, cage-free eggs and rBGH-free dairy products. We bring fresh produce to our neighborhood by offering a farmers market on campus in partnership with Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
Our journey to MSC certification started with one of our team members. Our food buyer, Stacey Reyes, suggested that we pursue the certification. She was convinced that serving MSC certified seafood would be an excellent complement our other sustainable food options.
Obtaining MSC certification was not easy. It required a focused effort. We needed to find a supplier, stay on budget with food cost, set up a tracking system and pass a rigorous audit.
Our first step was to find a supplier. We serve 1.2 million meals out of our kitchen each year, so our supplier needed to be able to provide fish on a large scale. Our existing fish supplier was not MSC certified. Our team encouraged the supplier to become certified. After careful consideration, the supplier worked with MSC to become certified. This was a win-win for everyone: our supplier expanded its offerings and we are able to buy MSC fish.
Every organization needs to stay on budget, so sustainability projects must make sense economically. We could pursue Marine Stewardship Council certification if the cost wasn’t too much different than our existing supply. Fortunately, we found that MSC-certified fish is only slightly more expensive than non-certified. We decided that paying a small amount more to protect fish stocks for future generations was worth it. We were able to find cost savings in other areas of our culinary program to cover the increased cost.
Marine Stewardship Council fish is tracked with a chain-of-custody from the moment of harvest to its presentation on the table. To serve MSC seafood, Virginia Mason needed to set up a tracking system. We set aside an area of the walk-in cooler specifically for our MSC seafood. Training on the MSC program prepared our team to manage the seafood in our kitchen.
After this hard work, we scheduled our MSC audit. A number of consultants perform the audit for a fee. We chose a local auditor to keep costs down. The audit ensured we met all MSC requirements so we could use the ecolabel in our communications. We were approved and became the first hospital in the world to serve MSC seafood.
We encourage other organizations to explore MSC certification, and hope you can use our experience as a road map. Obtaining certification to serve MSC seafood was not easy, but it was worth it. By serving sustainable seafood, we are giving our patients healthy food while protecting nutritious fish stocks for future generations of their families. That’s the epitome of “first, do no harm.”