A food waste charity could be facing prosecution after a trading standards inspection.
The inspection discovered food which was past its use-by-date, which should not be sold to customers.
Formal hearing called
The Real Junk Food Project is a big food charity which has 127 affiliated cafes around the world. Their aim is to combat food waste by collecting produce which would normally be thrown out and then selling it to members of the public.
Adam Smith, who is one of the charity’s co-founders, has now been summoned to a formal hearing after an inspection at a Leeds warehouse. The West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service, or WYTSS, has concerns about what they discovered there.
Around 444 items were found which had a combined length of 6,345 days past their use-by dates. It is not legal to sell items which are past this date, and so Smith could be facing prosecution. He has contravened the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 as well as the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations 2013.
He has made a statement that the food served by their cafes was safe and that they had not received any complaints from members of the public.
There are 3 warehouses, or “share houses”, in Sheffield, Birmingham, and Leeds. These warehouses receive food from supermarkets, food banks, farms, workers in supply chain jobs, and wholesalers that would otherwise be thrown out. Anything that is safe to eat is then sent to cafes, event caterers, and even schools on a pay-what-you-feel basis.
“We’ve been doing this for three and a half years and we’ve fed just over a million people worldwide,” said Smith. “They could have stopped us a long time ago and they didn’t. If they thought it was dangerous they wouldn’t have allowed us to continue trading.”
Smith has challenged the use of use-by dates, especially where they are misleading. He argues that food is often given a use-by date which is inaccurate, and that people can use common sense instead to see when food has gone off. If you have a food packaging job you will already know the confusion over conflicting terms such as sell-by and use-by.
He offered the example of some lemons and bananas the charity was given that were past the date. They were all fit for consumption, but would legally have been thrown away. He worries that this is contributing to the huge amount of food waste that we produce, for no good reason.
Smith could face up to two months in prison as well as a £1,500 fine if he is found guilty of bypassing the law. Trading standards found more than 100 sachets of French dressing which were past their use-by date as part of the haul; Smith would argue that the oil and vinegar in the dressing would not have caused harm past this date.
“Our instincts provide us with enough to be able to tell if food is off or not,” said Smith. “We want to show that with our skills and knowledge – as chefs and people who have worked in the food industry for a long time – that we can provide this food to anybody and make it safe for consumption.”
A peaceful protest has now been planned to coincide with the date of his hearing – a picnic using waste food.
“In relation to the relevant legal provisions, I can confirm the supply of food marked with a ‘use-by’ date after the date marked on the pack is an offence. It is however not an offence to supply foods marked with a best before date beyond the date marked on pack,” said a WYTSS spokesperson.