Food in the public sector
Each year, local and national public sector organisations spend over £1 billion on food - including in schools (£320m per year), hospitals (£300m per year), care homes and the armed forces (£195m per year). This presents a huge and exciting opportunity to invest in healthy and sustainable food, for the benefit of many of the people that need it most - schoolchildren, hospital patients and care home residents, as well as the many thousands of staff that work in public sector institutions.
The Government has recently recognised the enormous power of the public sector to improve the food system, supporting good health, environmental protection and good livelihoods for sustainable farmers and food producers. In July 2011, the government adopted binding Government Buying Standards for food served in central government - Whitehall, Government Departments, prisons and some parts of the armed forces. This followed government support for the healthy and sustainable food standards adopted by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in its London 2012 Food Vision. The government hopes that these standards will spread to the wider public sector, including schools and hospitals.
How you can promote health and sustainability in the public sector
If you buy or prepare food in the public sector, then you have a significant role to play in helping to achieve a healthier and more sustainable food system, for the benefit of people and the planet. You can:
- Sign up to the Food Legacy pledge. By signing and returning this pledge, you will be committing your organisation to take steps to serve healthy and sustainable food. Organisations that have already committed to healthy and sustainable food, inspired by the London 2012 Food Vision, include the GLA Group, which includes City Hall, the London Metropolitan Police, Transport for London and the London Fire Brigade.
- Find out more about Central Government commitments to sustainable food procurement on the Government Buying Standards website. This includes commitments to fresh and seasonal food, Fairtrade certified products, fully sustainable fish, and detailed nutritional criteria.
- Buy from food producers that guarantee higher sustainability standards. You can find suppliers on the local and sustainable food directories promoted through this website and, in the South East, via the Good Food on the Public Plate public procurement supplier map.
- If you are in London, contact Good Food on the Public Plate, a project run by Sustain and supported by the Mayor of London and London Food Board, that provides free help and advice to London’s public sector organisations including local authorities, hospitals, universities and care homes, to enable them to use more sustainable food in their catering.
- Throughout the UK, the Food for Life Catering Mark team works with public sector institutions - particularly schools - to improve food standards through a Bronze, Silver and Gold awards scheme.
- Invest in good food training. Training is essential to provide procurement, catering staff and front-of-house staff with the skills to buy, prepare and serve healthy and sustainable food. Training can also help you to tailor menus to suit the many different people served by the public sector. You can improve the skills and confidence of your employees, improve staff retention and help your organisation serve delicious, healthy and sustainable food.
What is healthy and sustainable food?
Follow the links below, to find out about support or advice to help turn good food ideas into action: