More than 40 tonnes of hospital meals are going straight in the bin every year at the North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust - which runs Peterborough City Hospital, Stamford Hospital and Hinchingbrooke, figures show
According to NHS data, the trust recorded 863kg of unserved food going to waste over one seven-day period in March 2018 - the equivalent of 44.9 tonnes every year.
The figure covers just the excess meals left on the trolley at the end of a meal service, and does not include food that patients leave on their plates when they have finished eating.
It includes starters, main meals and desserts during lunch and dinner, but does not include breakfast.
The Government has announced a ten-year plan for the NHS, which includes a commitment to tackle waste.
However, more than 7,130 tonnes worth of meals are currently going in the bin across the NHS in England every year, the data suggests.
Food waste is a “big problem” in the NHS, according to the food and farming charity Soil Association, which campaigns for better food in hospitals.
Rob Percival, policy officer at the Soil Association, said it is often linked to the method NHS trusts use for catering services.
Many rely on pre-prepared meals that are delivered to sites which may not have the freezer capacity to keep any surplus, he explained.
“Trusts should be investing in fresh preparation of meals as opposed to bulk purchasing, which gives catering staff a greater degree of control,” he said.
“Then you won’t be dealing with the scenario where you have 1,000 plated meals delivered but you only have 300 orders from patients and the rest goes in the bin.”
Maisie Borrows, research manager at the Reform think tank, said: “These figures are just the tip of the iceberg and highlight the need for reform.
“All NHS hospitals should strive to be as efficient as the ‘best-in-class’, looking at improving efficiency by harnessing technology and insight from data.”
The North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust spent £4.4 million on food services in the 12 months to March, including labour, delivery and management costs.
During this time, there were 872,701 meals requested by patients.
This would give an average cost of £15.2 to feed one patient for a day, if no meals were wasted , compared to a UK-wide average of £12.59.
The lowest amount spent by an English trust was £4.20.
According to Mr Percival, ensuring high-quality meals are provided to patients could also help to reduce extra waste from food being left on plates.
“Adequate nutrition is important for a patient’s recovery and a huge amount of plate waste is generated because food is of a low quality - ready-made, reheatable meals that are highly unappetising.
“Freshly prepared meals are generally more appealing, in our experience, whereas pre-prepared meals can be pretty disgusting.
“When you freshly prepare the food it allows the chefs to monitor how much is being left on plates by patients and they can adjust how much they produce.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Improvement said: “While there will be legitimate reasons why NHS trusts spend different amounts on food, ensuring that all patients receive high-quality meals is the priority.
“We have recently launched a Healthcare Food Standards Strategy group to support trusts and drive improvement.”