Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by the Director of Catering and Retail Services, House of Commons


1. The House of Commons Catering and Retail Service (CRS) welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into sustainable food. Before providing information on the specific points raised by the Committee in its letter of 24 October to the Office of the Chief Executive of the House of Commons, as head of the House of Commons in-house catering service, I would like to share a few observations borne out of many years experience of trying to promote sustainable food procurement within the catering profession and, most recently, within a public sector organisation.

2. Firstly, I would draw the Committee’s attention to the nature of the food supply chain into the catering and hospitality market. Typically, this consists of a large number of small, independent suppliers, operating over local distribution networks and often without the resources or the buying-power to compete against the major supermarkets that dominate the retail market. This often makes it difficult for the caterer wishing to implement a sustainable procurement policy to do so economically unless the scale of their business is either small enough to be able to source their requirements from small, local producers and artisans, or large enough to drive the buying policies of the main wholesalers serving the catering market.

3. Secondly, the House of Commons is subject to the EU Procurement Regulations. This means that it must formally advertise and let the vast majority of its food supply contracts in accordance with the strictures of the formal procedures and timescales laid down in that legislation. However, many small, entrepreneurial suppliers in the catering market are not well resourced or skilled to participate in formal tendering processes and prefer to develop their business by building relationships with potential customers. This can result in some of the supply chain most committed to food sustainability choosing not to bid for supply contracts. Furthermore, companies and entrepreneurs who emerge as new leaders in areas of sustainable food initiatives cannot compete for supply until the contract is next tendered. This imposes a degree of inflexibility that is unwelcome in an area where the agenda is significantly driven by consumer demand.

4. Lastly, we recognise that we have a responsibility as the provider of meals in the workplace to help our customers make informed choices about the foods they are buying in our restaurants. But as a small catering organisation employing less than 300 staff, it is difficult to keep our management, chefs and procurement staff up to date with food sustainability issues and initiatives. A single source of clear, practical advice could help signpost the way to more detailed and in-depth advice or information, and would be invaluable as a portal for educating both staff and customers about the issues and choices that exist.

5. The remainder of this evidence sets out the information specifically requested by the Committee.

Sustainable Procurement Policy

6. The House of Commons Catering and Retail Service (CRS) recognise its responsibility to carry out its procurement activities in an environmentally and socially responsible manner and created a Sustainable Procurement Policy in 2009. The policy sought to work within the guidelines set out by the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PSFPI) and in doing so endeavoured to contribute to the Government’s Sustainable Farming and Food Strategy (SFFS). The policy contained reference to measurement against government targets (PSFPI). PSFPI was superseded by Defra’s Government Buying Standards in September 2011. Performance has not been monitored .

7. Invitations to tender for supply of goods to CRS currently contain the following criteria:


The Contractor shall perform the Contract in accordance with an environmental policy that aims to conserve energy, water, wood, paper and other resources, reduce waste and phase out the use of ozone depleting substances and minimise the release of greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds and other substances damaging to health and the environment.’

8. Regarding food contracts specifically, the Commercial Services Directorate, part of the Department of Finance and with corporate responsibility for procurement for the House, are planning to create a new document to add to the standard suite of tender documents which will be applied to food contracts. This will cover the current Government Buying Standards for food (in relation to which the House of Commons is not obliged to comply),which includes sustainability standards covering issues such as:

· food produced to higher environmental standards

· fish from sustainable sources

· seasonal fresh food

· animal welfare

· ethical trading considerations

9. For a number of years, CRS have worked towards managing out of their food supply chain all fish listed as ‘to avoid’ in the Marine Conservation Society’s ‘Good Fish Guide’. CRS has recently strengthened this by committing to the ‘Sustainable Fish City Pledge’, a campaign coordinated by Sustain and supported by the Good Catch Initiative, the Marine Conservation Society, the Marine Stewardship Council, Seafood Choices Alliance and other organisations. This pledge is a promise to take appropriate steps to buy sustainable seafood, to protect precious marine environments and fish stocks, and preserve good fishing livelihoods.

10. In addition to formalising our pledge that all future menu development will not feature fish on the ‘Avoid’ list of the Good Fish Guide, the pledge requires CRS to:

· develop and implement a formal policy on seafood sustainability in our business;

· assess and monitor the environmental sustainability of the seafood we serve;

· make sustainable seafood choices by removing endangered species from all menus, promote sustainably managed fish to our customers, and tell our suppliers that we want to serve only sustainable fish;

· communicate this policy clearly to our customers, suppliers and key stakeholders; and,

· help influence wider progress by using our influence to encourage others to make the same commitment.

Minimising Food Waste

11. CRS take the following actions to minimise food waste:

· Wastage is monitored: any food that is wasted due to it being unable to be re-used or sold, or which is damaged or unfit for consumption is recorded on wastage sheets. Monthly stock takes are carried out and anomalies investigated.

· Production volumes are planned with recourse to anticipated levels of business:

o CRS work closely with the Main Party Whips to forecast levels of business;

o Duty Managers report on evening business;

o Sales history is extrapolated from the Electronic Point of Sale (EPoS) System;

o Purchasing and product consumption history is provided by a computerised stock management system;

o Cafeteria menu cycles run twice before being changed. Popularity of dishes is reviewed after the first run and changes to volumes made where necessary. A planning, production and control sheet highlights anomalies in production and sales.

· Adherence to food handling procedures minimises waste through correct storage of products. Food handlers are trained in Food Safety and the operation is subject to an annual independent audit, plus regular inspection by Westminster Council’s Environmental Health Officers. Food is clearly labelled using a bespoke labelling system and stock is rotated as part of standard business procedure.

· Surpluses and short date products are transferred between outlets to maximise the possibility of using the products.

· A dedicated butcher is employed in the kitchen brigade. Whole joints are purchased for use in some areas, promoting economic and efficient utilisation of fresh meat cuts by allowing trimmings to be used in other dishes.

· Some outlets have self-serve facilities (breakfast items, vegetables, salad bars). This allows customers to choose their own portion sizes.

· The purchase of prepared vegetables allows for trimming waste to be managed in bulk further up the supply chain.

· Services for which there is minimal demand are provisioned by small packs, frozen products or other convenience products.

· There is a bicameral arrangement in place for the recycling of waste cooking oil. The supplier removes waste oil free of charge, then converts it to bio diesel to run their transport fleet.

· There is agreement to pursue a food waste composting pilot in the New Year as part of the recently negotiated House waste collection contract. The pilot will inform plans to extend this service across the Estate.

Use of Powdered Egg

12. CRS do not procure powdered egg. CRS purchase only organic, free range, lion coded & date stamped whole eggs. Additional information from the nominated egg supplier is set out below:

We have centred the supply chain on a cooperative of 28 farmers who operate outside of the grip of major retailers. Our products are Organic (Soil Association and Organic Food Federation), Free Range lion coded and Barn egg lion coded in medium, large or extra large sizes and either on catering trays or retail pre-packs, all under the Liberty Egg brand which you will only find in other independent outlets. Eggs are graded and packed in the cooperative’s own packing station, operated by the Elliott family with every step of production and dispatch supervised by them. The packing station is Lion approved and organic certified and only eggs from within the cooperative are graded there leading to a guarantee of absolute traceability and accountability.’

13. In addition to whole eggs, CRS purchase pasteurised liquid egg products. The Cocovite brand currently supplied is produced in Belgium. The supplier has confirmed that their eggs come from enriched cage supplies, in accordance with the European legislation on enriched cages which take effect in 2012. It is anticipated that the imported products will increase in cost in the New Year and supply will then be reviewed again in light of these changes.

Bottled Water

14. A review in 2009 concluded that the current method of supplying water to Committee Rooms provided the best cost/environmental impact balance [1] . An updated review is currently being prepared for consideration by the Administration Committee.

8 December 2011


Prepared 18th January 2012