School meals quality checks planned

TRADING standards officers plan to swoop on Essex schools to carry out strict laboratory tests on the meals served up to pupils, it has emerged.The idea, currently in the planning stage, would see spot-checks on school dinners being carried out to ensure meal providers are feeding pupils nutritious dinners.

TRADING standards officers plan to swoop on Essex schools to carry out strict laboratory tests on the meals served up to pupils, it has emerged.

The idea, currently in the planning stage, would see spot-checks on school dinners being carried out to ensure meal providers are feeding pupils nutritious dinners.

Officers at Essex County Council's Trading Standards department are looking at teaming up with food health experts at the county's district and borough councils to send officers into schools to see if the dinners being dished out are up to standard.

The suggestion comes about a year-and-a-half after the county council ended the centrally-held contract for school meal provision, which it ran for hundreds of primary schools up and down the county.


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Since the contract ended, schools have had to make their own arrangements for providing their pupils with meals.

A spokeswoman for the county council confirmed the idea was being looked into and that talks were planned with both district authorities and the schools themselves.

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She said: "It is all still at the planning stage and we are speaking with colleagues at district and borough councils because it will be their staff that will actually go in and oversee the testing.

"As it currently stands, Essex County Council would manage the scheme but other authorities would be doing the samples."

Some headteachers have raised doubts about the idea.

Alan Garnett, headteacher at North Primary School in Colchester, said: "I feel funds would be better spent on improving school meals rather than monitoring them."

Laurence Garside, headteacher at Kings Ford Junior in Shrub End, Colchester, said he welcomed the idea of creating set standards for school meals in Essex but he questioned what would happen if school meals were found to be not of the desired quality.

Mr Garside said: "If Essex County Council is concerned about the quality of meals, it should put in extra money to help schools."

Essex County Council's latest plans were first touted by trading standards staff before celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched his nationwide Feed Me Better school dinners' campaign.

Alex Newson, who oversees a similar trading standards scheme in Bedfordshire and who is a spokesman for the Institute of Food Science and Technology, said he supported moves to check on the quality of meals provided by schools.

He said fairly simple tests could be carried out to test the basic make-up of meals, such as protein, carbohydrates and fat content, as well as testing for vitamins and mineral contents.

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