Horse meat food contamination

The current horse meat scandal has once again brought the quality of school food into the spotlight. In particular, the issue has exposed two major flaws in our food system; the lack of traceability of meat and the over-reliance on processed foods.

This is one of many reasons the Food for Life Partnership, working closely with the Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark, has taken up the challenge of transforming school food and food education in England. As well as improving the overall quality and nutrition of meals, the award programme provides a clear framework to improve the traceability, quality and provenance of the food that schools serve.

By following this framework, awarded Food for Life Partnership schools have already taken very positive steps to ensure their food is sourced knowledgeably and responsibly. 

The award criteria
At bronze (the entry level) all meat served is required to meet the UK Assured Food Standards (AFS). By meeting this criteria, schools ensure that all meat is traceable back to the farm and meets UK legal minimum welfare standards. In addition, 75% of food served must be freshly prepared, reducing reliance on processed food.

Schools are given clear actions for improving food on a plate and are rewarded for making healthy eating easier and including local, seasonal, organic and high animal welfare products.  The programme encourages schools to shorten supply chains and to remove reliance on untraceable processed food. It has seen many schools put local food on the menu for the first time as well as demonstrating that the award criteria can be met within existing budgets.

Schools who work with a Food for Life Catering Mark-accredited caterer
The majority of schools who hold a Food for Life Partnership award are accredited by the programme’s lead partner, the Soil Association, through their Food for Life Catering Mark scheme. It is the UK’s only independent accreditation scheme that inspects caterers to ensure that over 500,000 school meals a day - 20% of schools in England - meet high standard for food quality.

In addition to schools, the Catering Mark logo can also be found guaranteeing standards in nurseries, workplaces, universities, visitor attractions and restaurants.

No scheme of food assurance can ever be 100% fool-proof, or immune to corruption by deliberate criminal activity. However, Catering Mark-accredited caterers must have menus independently verified, submit to an annual inspection and prove that the food they serve is traceable.

Awarded schools who are not accredited by the Food for Life Catering Mark
Schools that do not have a Catering Mark-accredited caterer must demonstrate they meet food quality and provenance criteria that mirror the Catering Mark standards. At silver and bronze this is self-assessed with schools required to supply comprehensive documentary evidence. To be awarded Gold, they must pass a full Food for Life Catering Mark inspection.

Food education

Critical in the longer-term, the food education aspect of the Food for Life Partnership programme is driving the culture change that is needed to stop issues like these occurring. In over 4,400 schools working with the programme, pupils, parents and teachers are helped to understand more about where food comes from and ask the right questions about the food they are eating.

Advice to schools
We would advise all schools to refer to the Food Standards Agency advice to all public institutions on their responsibilities while the horsemeat investigations continue.


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The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture. Together we are revolutionising school meals, reconnecting children and young people with where their food comes from, and inspiring families to grow and cook food.

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