Top marks in independent audit!

Top marks in independent audit

During the 2019 autumn term, Waltham Forest Council’s Public Health department commissioned an independent audit of school meal provision in randomly selected primary and secondary schools in Waltham Forest.

We were filled with pride when notified of key findings which showed that we've outperformed in-house and commercial providers in both primary and secondary schools.

Primary schools across the borough were more frequently in compliance with the school food standards than secondary schools. Primary schools had higher standards than secondary schools for promoting healthy choices and encouraging healthy eating, with many schools using our services able to show examples of best practice in this area. In our primary schools we achieved 100% in the food-based standards for school lunches.

For example, each week we provided three or more different, healthy starchy foods including wholegrain pasta, mixed rice and freshly baked wholemeal bread across our menu cycle. Whereas 60% of schools with their own in-house service and one commercial provider frequently are not providing wholegrain options on their menus and some were not even aware that this is a mandatory standard.

Our starchy food is cooked in fat or oil no more than two days each week. When onsite staff were questioned about cooking methods it became clear that only 40% of commercial and in-house providers met this standard.

In the Fruit and Vegetable category we achieved 100% for the standards set compared to only 40% of our competitors. Amongst other providers it was found that although school menus often appeared to be compliant, upon inspection of recipe books (where available) it was clear that the fruit content fell far below the 50% required to meet the target. Attention was drawn to one commercial provider and a school in-house provider who frequently did not meet this standard.

Oily fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which makes them the healthiest seafood and excellent for promoting brain health. We provide oily fish at least once a week on the menu cycle however the audit found that commercial providers are less aware of this standard with one provider not providing oily fish anywhere on their menu.

Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are not only nutritionally beneficial and may prevent and treat certain diseases, but they are also more environmentally sustainable because they use fewer natural resources than diets rich in animal products. In our provision for vegetarians we scored 100% where only 40% of commercial and school in-house provides hit the standard. The audit found that vegetarian sources of protein are poorly understood amongst some providers and vegetarian options are sometimes not given as much priority/thought as main meals. Some commercial providers do not provide a source of protein at all for their vegetarian meals or frequently rely on cheese as a protein source.

For all our freshly baked desserts, cakes and biscuits provided at lunchtime, none contain confectionery. In contrast, 60% of other providers did not reach this target.

Allergies can sometimes be life-threatening and in acknowledgement of this we achieved 100% for allergen awareness and catering for allergies safely. Other providers only reached 20% with many not meeting basic allergy requirements.

Encouraging healthy eating at a young age helps develop lifelong, good eating practices. Going forward, Public Health will be working with all schools and caterers in the audit to ensure that the food offer across the school day is fully compliant and that healthy choices are encouraged.

Waltham Forest Catering will continue to maintain the high standards already in place to ensure the pupils we cater for have a high quality, healthy and nutritious school meal offer. Our congratulations go to the Cooks and staff teams in the kitchens who received the surprise audit inspections, on their excellent display of the standards we expect in all our school kitchens!