DEAR HARRY: I work for a suburban hospital. I have to be on the premises during my entire shift. This presents no problem, except at lunch time. I may not leave even for a fast-food break of 15 minutes. On the other hand, meals are available at the hospital free - no limit.

I have been hearing both ends of the taxable vs. nontaxable nature of this deal. I started the job last July and have no W-2 or 1099 that show the value of these meals. Incidentally, I make this my main meal of the day. What's the word from the horse's mouth?

WHAT HARRY SAYS: Harry the horse says that you're OK to omit this on your 1040. There are a number of similar situations where in-house meals are nontaxable fringe benefits. Yours is a case where you apparently must be there during meal periods for emergencies.

There are many more: hotel employees who live on the premises; those who may only have shortened lunch times; food-service employees who (for deductibility) must eat immediately before, after or during work hours; employees in remote locations with no other facilities; seamen, domestics, servicemen, hospital employees required to eat on premises; park employees who live rent-free on premises to prevent and detect vandalism.

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