M&S expands redistribution trials for frozen perishable food

Marks and Spencer (M&S) has been provided with 'assured advice' from Westminster City Council to expand a trial aiming to redistribute chilled and perishable food waste to local charities.

Following engagement with DEFRA and Westminster City Council, M&S carried out testing to show that it could cool food down to -2°C in the time between the store closing and midnight. In order to maintain food safety, every product was relabelled with a new best before date – a month from freezing- and these products are kept in a segregated area of the freezer.

The method was trialled in three Central-London stores, and the perishable food waste was successfully donated to London food charity City Harvest.

An official green light came once the trial had proved the safety of the concept, with the company announcing “we have now been provided with assured advice from Westminster City Council, our primary authority, that they our satisfied that the procedures we have in place are sufficient to ensure food safety”.

This is the latest in a series of initiatives implemented by M&S in order to achieve its Plan A target of reducing food waste by 20% by 2020. Speaking at a Plan A report progress event yesterday, M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said: “Plan A will become more relevant to our customers and the communities in which they live.

“We believe more than ever as a business there is a need for a purpose driven business in the UK, and it will be delivered with companies which interests and actions are aligned with the communities and planet they live on. It differentiates our products it reduces our costs from leading operations and makes our operations and supply chains resilient in a prevalent way.”

Reuse-by date

Current regulations concerning the redistribution of food very near or past its use-by date make it expensive for food retailers to re-distribute to charities. Economic constraints on food charities also make it difficult for them to keep donated perishable food chilled during transport and storage.

Since October last year, M&S has been working with Neighbourly, a free networking site designed to connect companies to charitable projects within communities, to cut its food waste by redistributing unsold food. Through the site, M&S has been able to find over 500 local charities that will accept unsold food from the company.

Commenting on this initiative, Dr Richard Swannell, director at WRAP said: “A number of challenges exist which make it difficult for retailers to redistribute surplus food from back of store. By proving the concept that chilled foods can be safely frozen for redistribution, M&S can now work towards expanding the variety and amount of food they can redistribute, not only reducing food waste but also saving charities money.”

Capacity constraints

Hot on the heels of WRAP’s new food waste action plan, Neighbourly has published survey results from 218 redistribution charities which highlights a lack of “comprehensive national data” covering food redistribution in the UK.

The survey revealed most organisations lack the capabilities to deliver meals consistently, with just under half of the respondents citing a lack of storage space as a factor in failing to redistribute. Just over 40% claimed they needed more transport methods, while a third needed better funding and refrigeration capabilities.

Despite willingness to accept fresh food donations reaching 94%, the capacity issues listed – combined with the safety risks of handling fresh foods – is putting charities off accepting food donations. In response, a review has been launched to explore whether food safety labelling can be enhanced to boost the volume of fresh food donations.

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Cameron Joshi

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