Tayside Contracts goes on the defensive after meals get thumbs down from school dinner staff

By Melanie Bonn

Under-fire Tayside Contracts has insisted there is nothing wrong with its school dinners despite criticism from prominent politicians.

Earlier this week John Swinney MSP announced he was investigating reports from catering staff that they lacked confidence over the precooked, frozen then reheated meals currently provided in some school dining rooms and cafeterias in Tayside.

In June, Tory and Lib Dem councillors voted in favour of Tayside Contracts providing frozen school meals from a central factory to pupils across Perth and Kinross, starting next year.

As MSP for Perthshire North, Mr Swinney highlighted claims he had received about the Tay Cuisine meals produced by Tayside Contracts emanating from catering employees in Dundee schools.

He said this week: “The concerns highlighted by catering staff – in addition to the feedback I have received directly from parents - raise legitimate questions over the quality of food being served to children across Perth and Kinross.

“Catering staff are on the frontline and are best placed to know the standard of our children’s food. It is therefore only right that the issues they have raised are treated seriously and fully investigated.

“To that end, I will be writing to Tayside Contracts to ask for their thoughts on the matter, and to enquire as to what steps they will be taking to ensure that children across Perth and Kinross will be served high-quality food.”

He was backed by Perth and Kinross Council SNP group leader Cllr Grant Laing.

He said: “The reports coming out of Dundee are sadly not surprising, and are exactly the sort of thing that the SNP council group warned about when we opposed the introduction of frozen school meals.

“The truth is that frozen school meals are hated by parents, pupils and catering staff.

“It is why thousands of individuals across Perth and Kinross signed a petition against their introduction, and it is why the Tories and Lib Dems had to vote them in via the back door.”

Following the criticism over its school meal offering, a spokesperson for Tayside Contracts defended the meals and pointed out that at present, the central production unit (CPU) where meals are cooked and frozen before delivery, is not yet used in county schools.

The spokesperson said: “Our 850 school catering employees throughout Tayside provide an excellent service.

“Tayside Contracts provides almost 30,000 school meals every day throughout Tayside and the number of complaints we receive about the quality of our meals is minimal.

“Every complaint is investigated and if necessary remedial action is taken. It is by combining this fast response to dissatisfied customers, allied to our pro-active approach to quality management, that we are able to deliver a superior meals service and learn lessons from those rare occasions where our service has fallen below the required standard.

“At present, meals produced by the central production unit (CPU) are not served in Perth and Kinross, with this service due to commence in early 2022.

“We have demonstrated previously through extensive taste tests with parents, pupils, councillors, senior council officers and journalists, there is no discernible difference in taste and quality between meals delivered using the CPU’s cook-freeze process and those prepared onsite.

“We have also established through the expert opinion of an independent food and nutrition professional that meals delivered through the cook-freeze process have no less nutritional value than those meals cooked onsite.

“Tayside Contracts will continue to engage with stakeholders through extensive customer surveys, attendance at pupil councils and parent groups and, notwithstanding any COVID-19 restrictions, accommodate requests from stakeholders and other interested parties to taste our meals for themselves.

“I am confident they will find that our meals are wholly compliant with food and nutrition legislation, and also offer a wide variety of appetising and healthy dishes.’’

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