St. Joseph's Mercy Offers Healthier Option

April 4, 2012

The new combi oven in Hot Springs

does a lot more than fry foods.

St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Center has replaced a deep fryer with a combi oven, making a once unhealthy choice a little healthier. But it is unlikely most co-workers, visitors and guests visiting the cafeteria will ever notice a difference.

There will still be some of the favorites of the St. Joseph’s Mercy cafeteria like French fries and chicken strips. They’ll just be prepared in a different way.

“For many years, we’ve had a deep fryer and we’re ready to shift gears now. It’s going to be a healthier alternative for our employees and guests,” said Jeff Erwin, director of Nutrition Services at St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Center.

St. Joseph’s Mercy isn’t completely eliminating deep fat fried foods from its cafeteria. But it has begun reducing the amount of foods prepared in this manner with the shift to the combi oven.  It is the first in Mercy’s 31-hospital system to make this change and fits perfectly with Mercy’s Healthification initiative. In Healthification, co-workers, patients and visitors are encouraged to make healthier choices through their eating and activities. Last year, Mercy co-workers celebrated National Employee Health and Fitness Day by doing 1 million jumping jacks.

“Our co-workers have asked for healthier alternatives and we answered that call with the Tea Leaf Grill on the south campus. We wanted to try it on a smaller basis before we tried it at a bigger location,” Erwin said. “It’s a welcome change and it will be a change for all of us. We look forward to the challenges and meeting our customers’ needs. “

The change from the fryer to the combi oven was one St. Joseph’s Mercy was planning for the future. But when one deep fryer needed to be replaced, Erwin and his staff had a choice. They could purchase another deep fryer or make a move to the future by purchasing the combi oven.

The combi oven is able to cook in various modes such as baking, poaching, healthy frying and steaming. In the convection mode, the oven circulates dry heat – ideal for cooking traditional baked items like pizza and breads. In the steam mode, the combi oven will cook at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is best for producing delicate items such as vegetables and seafoods.

“It’s essentially a convection oven with a relative humidity setting on it so you can cook at hotter temperatures and crisp things up, just like fried,” Erwin said.

That means the same taste and crispy texture to French fries, chicken strips and catfish without the fat. One serving (1/2 cup) of French fries cooked using the combi oven contains ½ the total number of fat grams as fries cooked in a traditional fryer. Foods prepared in the combi oven have 97 percent less added fat than traditional fried foods.

“Eating chicken strips and fries prepared this way save you 180 fat calories each serving. That means a savings of 9,360 fat calories or 2.67 pounds per year if you eat them once a week,” said Cindy Hughes, Registered Dietitian at St. Joseph’s Mercy. “You still can eat some of the foods you like and not feel guilty.”

St. Joseph’s Mercy is a not-for-profit, faith-based health facility with 27 medical clinics serving the healthcare needs of Hot Springs and its surrounding communities since 1888. It is designated as the southwest region’s only Level II Trauma Center, is the region’s most preferred provider of health care services and among the six percent of hospitals across the nation with a comprehensive integrated electronic health record. In May, St. Joseph’s Mercy will become Mercy Hospital Hot Springs.

Mercy is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,500 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit

Media Contacts