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Brexit – the Ifs, Buts and Maybes for School Cooks and Caterers

As the end to the Brexit transition period approaches, our Food for Life co-founder, Jeanette Orrey, shares her advice and top tips for navigating an uncertain return to school in January.

We are all facing tough challenges with Covid-19. Yet as ever, the school meals industry has quietly got on with feeding children.

When everyone goes back in January there will be another unknown - Brexit.

I have titled this blog ‘Ifs, Buts and Maybes’, because, in all honesty, who knows how this will play out? As you read this, it may even have been sorted!

Disruption and delays – take action now

Schools will be closed when the Brexit transition period ends on December 31st - which is why a discussion is needed NOW.

I’m sure many of you are already in talks with your producers and suppliers, whether they be local or national.  We have had cooks and caterers get in touch to say suppliers have been warning about possible delays on some products such as pasta, rice and flour.

Whether there is a deal or not, there will be some disruption within the food sector; delays, shortages and price increases.

Yet the school meal sector has always been known for resilience and can-do attitude. We can alter menus and there should also be an emergency stock in place - when I worked in the kitchen, we had 3 days’ worth.  However, I do believe that the hardest change will be the price increase of products, particularly when school cooks and caterers have a budget of 70-80p to spend on ingredients for a 2-course meal.

Our Brexit Checklist

Here are my top tips for being Brexit ready in your school kitchen - my thanks go to Sam Ward, Catering Manager at Academy for Character & Excellence and Caron Longden, Development Lead Food for Life Served Here and Green Kitchen Standard for their input on this.

Now and before Christmas:

  • Contact your suppliers: Speak to your suppliers and seek their advice on how your orders may be disrupted.
  • Prepare early: Think about your first couple of weeks back in school – if you can and have room, pre-order and freeze/store your ingredients.
  • Make a contingency plan: Think about what happens if you can’t get everything you need. Can you run a reduced menu? Or use substitutes that are available? Follow the advice from your suppliers.

After Christmas:

  • Be aware that food labelling may change: This could impact your allergen information.  Ensure you speak to your suppliers and have updated specifications and information.
  • Disruption: There could well be continued disruption in getting supplies into the country both by sea and road.  Keep in contact with your suppliers who will be able to advise on what’s happening.

Menu planning for spring

  • Expect a rise in numbers: Ensure you have correct meal numbers once Covid-19 has settled down and things start returning to normal service – it’s likely your numbers of meals will rise due to an increase in Free School Meal numbers.
  • Staff hours: Think about how an increase in meal numbers will impact staffing requirements – better to plan early if you need to increase hours.
  • Cost consideration: Brexit may cause food costs to rise, so when planning your menus ensure you have all the information required from suppliers. Utilities may also rise so think about how meal price may need to cover this.
  • Think about storage: Do you have room for more shelves or another fridge/freezer?  Talk to your head teacher about budget availability for kitchen improvements.

Food Quality and Standards

There is considerable public concern about how a possible no-deal Brexit or future trade deals could impact on the quality of food coming into the UK.

All caterers achieving the Food for Life Served Here award (FFLSH) and any school or early years settings with the Food for Life award can confidently say they meet stringent standards including:

  • All food meets UK standards for animal welfare
  • Sustainable fish
  • Supporting local and British farmers

The importance of Food for Life and your school catering

All the aspects covered by FFLSH certification will become even more important - whatever the outcome of Brexit. 

Be on the front foot to reassure your customers (schools, parents, and children) that the food you serve meets the high standards set by FFLSH, and that meals are beneficial to our climate, nature and health.

Food for Life can help you showcase your food and sustainability credentials, shining a spotlight on the hard work you do.

Allow us to endorse and celebrate the food you serve. Contact Caron Longden to find out how we can help.


Tel – 07500 874 048


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