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- Study group reveals only 7% of recorded packed lunches comply with food-based standards for school lunches -

Innovate Services Ltd, the innovative catering facilities operator to the education sector, has today announced the findings from its initial Lunch Box Amnesty study group into the contents of students’ lunch boxes from a food health and safety perspective, in addition to reviewing the nutritional aspects, and has identified some interesting trends.

In total, 120 year 7 and 8 students from four secondary schools participated in the study group, providing a sample of 70 packed lunches to analyse from a nutritional standpoint. Of these, 49 lunch box samples were subsequently tested from a food safety and hygiene perspective and 80 students also completed written questionnaires providing their personal views regarding lunch box contents.

Public health nutritionist, Robert Hobson carried out the analysis on the food types and identified that only 7% of the packed lunches recorded complied with the food-based standards for school lunches*1. In addition, just under a quarter (24%) achieved the food-based standard of a minimum two portions of fruit and vegetables. While the majority (77%) contained a type of food or drink that is not permitted in accordance with the food-based standards for school lunches; 65% of these contained two of more restricted products.

The most popular non-permitted snacks were crisps, which were recorded in 42% of packed lunches. On the plus side, 56% of lunch boxes did contain at least one piece of fruit and therefore the recorded levels of vitamin C were well above the nutritional standard.

From a food hygiene perspective, Professor Lisa Ackerley, one of the UK’s leading food safety experts and contributor to BBC’s Watchdog and Rogue Restaurants programmes, analysed 49 food samples taken from the study group sessions and identified that of those tested, 41% were either borderline or unsatisfactory in terms of the presences of potentially pathogenic micro-organisms. Thirteen samples tested positive for Enterbacteriaceae, which is a group of bacteria used to assess the general hygiene status of a food product and includes species that originate from the intestinal tract of animals and humans, as well as plants and the environment. E.coli was also found in one sample and two samples were positive for Staphylococcus aureus, an organism that is indicative of poor personal hygiene.

To reduce the risk of pathogenic bacterial growth or contamination in lunch boxes, care must be taken when preparing lunches to avoid contaminating the food, hands are washed before preparing any foods and lunch boxes are cleaned each day. Over 90% of students confirmed that their lunch box is stored in their schools bags, which have also been used to carry books or sports kits that could easily contaminate the lunch box’ external surfaces, which can then be transferred onto the student’s hands and subsequently the contents of the packed lunches.

Robert Hobson RPHNutr MSc said; “The audit we have produced shows that a majority of the lunch boxes analysed failed to meet the food and nutrient-based standard for school lunches and this implies that food brought from home was less healthy than the food provided by the school canteen, whose menu is required to meet such standards. It is tricky for parents to not only take into consideration the nutritional standards when packing their child’s lunch each morning, but to offer variety. This analysis highlights that lunches offered in the school canteen can instead offer a far healthier alternative.”

Professor Lisa Ackerley, Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner, believes that we also need to look beyond just the nutritional content of the lunch box to the microbiological safety of foods; “From the initial findings it is clear that many lunch boxes are kept for several hours at room temperature, potentially allowing food poisoning bacteria to grow. Although the study only examined four schools, if the results of the study were replicated at all of Innovate’s sites, this would equate to a significant number of school children eating potentially unsafe food. Freshly prepared school lunches could be healthier for an altogether different reason – they are made by staff members who are trained in food safety, under hygienic conditions.”

As part of the Lunch Box Amnesty study group, 80 students were questioned as to whether they ever throw away any of the contents of their lunch box. Just under 43% said they do and the main reasons stated (in order of prominence) included not liking the food provided, no longer feeling hungry or concern about whether the food is safe to eat based on the ‘use by date’ or its smell.

Adds Derick Martin, co-founder and CEO of Innovate Services said, “The Lunch Box Amnesty has been a really interesting exercise into the health, safety and nutritional aspects of student’s packed lunches. From our sample, it is clear that producing a lunch box that includes the right nutrients, that is not exposed to potentially harmful bacteria and offers variety at an affordable price is a difficult balance to achieve. At Innovate, we have launched an onsite packed lunch option, which means students can chose a freshly made, temperature-controlled lunch box. This not only means students benefit from a meal that is refrigerated and meets the appropriate standards but students can pick the food that they like, reducing potential food wastage as outlined in the questionnaire findings.”

For further information regarding Innovate Services, visit


Notes to Editors:

High resolution images are available to accompany this press release, on request.


*1 – A guide to introducing the Government’s new food-based and nutrient-based standards for school lunches (2007) –

*2 – A copy of the reports produced by Dr Lisa Ackerley and Robert Hobson are available on request.

About Innovate Services Ltd:

Innovate Services Ltd launched in 2008 to offer an exciting new approach to catering in schools, academies and colleges, driven by a goal to inspire students with a blend of healthy eating and an inviting space in which they enjoy spending their time.

Innovate, in partnership with education business managers, head-teachers, staff and students, turns old, drab canteens into modern, vibrant multi-functional spaces that bring a new heart to the school or college. The team focuses on creating great food, which is healthy and importantly what students want to eat. Innovate reduces queues and expands choice and availability and the results speak for themselves, with many schools, academies and colleges doubling meal uptake.

Innovate provides a modern catering service, while delivering a host of value-added services and curriculum support initiatives.

Find Innovate Services online:, and

About Professor Lisa Ackerley:

Professor Lisa Ackerley is the Visiting Professor of Environmental Health at Salford University and Director of Hygiene Audit Systems Ltd, an independent consultancy specialising in food hygiene, health and safety. She is well-respected in the food industry, and known for her work as health and safety expert on various local TV programmes including BBC’s Watchdog and Rogue Restaurants.

Lisa Ackerley is also the Lead Consultant for Food Safety Compliance at Innovate Services and is working closely with the education catering provider on a number of studies, including a current Lunch Box Amnesty.

About Robert Hobson:
Robert Hobson is a registered Public Health nutritionist with the Nutrition Society and is a qualified trainer for Royal Society of Public Health. He has a BSc in Human Nutrition and MSc in Public Health Nutrition.

Having established the RHNutrition food and nutrition consultancy in December 2010, Robert provides nutrition services to both the public and private sector. Retained clients include Nutmeg UK (consultant nutritionist), Grub4life (consultant nutritionist) and London Met University (part-time lecturer). Robert has also worked with many schools, nurseries, local authorities, care home groups and food manufacturers to help improve the nutrition quality of food and adhere to as well as develop policy and guidance.

Robert's work involves research, policy, menu planning/nutrient analysis, product development, nutrition writing and project management, with a particular interest in schools and early year’s nutrition. He has also published across the health magazine sector, nationally and in the medical press.

Editor’s Contact:

Peppa Sheridan
Peptalk Communications
01787 313822

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