Hospital food measures for England set to be announced by the Department of Health do not go far enough, according to the Foodservice Consultants Society International (FSCI).
The new measures, to be announced by the health secretary, will aim to improve the quality, choice and nutrition of NHS hospital food, for both patients and staff. The standards have been developed in part through consultation with charity Age UK.
Said to be enforceable by legally-binding contracts, the changes include serving fish at least twice a week; using seasonal produce; cooking rice, vegetables and potatoes without salt; providing tap water at all times; using Fairtrade tea and coffee; and making sure at least half of all desserts are fruit.
Society chairman Niccola Boyd-Stevenson welcomed the new measures, but said that they did not go far enough to address what she called core problems in the NHS's catering provision, and questioned whether they addressed budget, or staff training levels.
Boyd-Stevenson also said that insufficient effort had been made to ensure the standards were legally enforceable, and called on the government to make more use of the hospital caterer organisations already in place.
She added: "Industry associations such as the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) and FCSI have the tools and experience required to assist the government in terms of quality and nutrition for food, but traditionally there has been a reluctance to use these. Sadly, this is still the case today."
The Campaign for Better Hospital Food, Alex Jackson, has also come out to condemn the changes as "woefully inadequate" and difficult to enforce.
The comparison to school food comes in light of all primary schools in England and Wales now being obliged to offer their youngest children free school meals, all of which must adhere to strict nutritional guidelines set out by the government.
Wales and Scotland already have their own hospital nutrient guidelines, introduced in 2011 and 2008 respectively.
The comments comes days after chef James Martin - who has worked to improve hospital food for several years via his BBC One programme Operation Hospital Food â' condemned the government for current standards via social networking site Twitter, after a national newspaper posted unappetising photos of hospital plates.
In a series of comments on Twitter, Martin said: "Throwing money at hospital food doesn't solve it…But giving a damn about a plate of food might be a good start", and complained that: "I've tried for five years to speak to someone in government and the response is ‘they're too busy'."