Commission statement on allegations of excessive food waste

September 13, 2012

On 31st August 2012 the Commission received allegations from BBC London News that catering staff were being asked to throw away excessive quantities of food immediately after cooking at the athletes catering facility at Royal Holloway village, which served athletes competing in the rowing and flatwater canoe/kayak events at Eton Dorney.

Background

The BBC had approached LOCOG several days before they contacted the Commission and were issued with a statement denying the allegations, saying that this was the action of one disgruntled ex-employee. There had been no communication between LOCOG and the Commission before being approached by the BBC. The Commission was presented with some of the evidence before the news item was broadcasted on 7th September 2012. After the broadcast new evidence that was not used was presented to the Commission in confidence. These included photographs, additional video footage and transcripts of interviews. We were advised that 6 whistle blowers had made the allegations; their identity remains confidential to BBC London News. Given the evidence presented, this was investigated under our emerging issues procedure. LOCOG and Aramark have co-operated fully with this investigation.

Context

It is important to understand the scale of this operation. Catering for elite Olympic and Paralympic athletes requires meticulous attention to detail with respect to food hygiene, nutrition and the variety of food that must be available 24 hours per day for athletes from 204 competing nations. Approximately 52,000 meals were served during the Games each day and over 3,000 per day at the Royal Holloway facility alone. This requires very large quantities of food, for example 19,000 kilos of prawn skewers. We understand that Royal Holloway was particularly challenging, as athletes had catering services at the village but also at the Eton Dorney venue. This made consumption patterns much more difficult to predict. The majority of staff were Aramark employees but at Royal Holloway 27 staff were seconded from the university catering team.

Contractual position

LOCOG was responsible for providing catering to the athletes free of charge. LOCOG paid for this service from private funds generated from commercial activities. There was no public money involved. LOCOG appointed Aramark as the catering contractor for theAthletesVillageon the Olympic Park, and at Royal Holloway andWeymouth. Aramark is a major international business and has provided catering services to Olympic and Paralympic Games for over 40 years. All food was ordered by Aramark and paid for by LOCOG, which also arranged and paid for disposal of any waste. We have been advised that there were two relevant Key Performance Indicators in the contract, although we have not been shown a copy of the contract itself. No more than 5% of the food was to be wasted in production. This means that from the point of food being delivered to the premises, it is controlled by Aramark up to the point of serving food to athletes. Both the food that has been provided for the athletes’ but not consumed by them, and the food taken away by athletes but not eaten was not part of this scope.  Additionally, no more than 3% of food is to remain in inventory after the Games. Financial penalties apply if Aramark fails to achieve either of these performance indicators. We understand these levels of performance are typical for continuous catering contracts. They are significantly better than performance levels usually achieved for events.

Process

The Commission has viewed the back of house catering process at the Olympic Park Village, and Aramark has briefed us on the process controls. Aramark had a thorough process for managing food. Quantities of food were recorded throughout the process from receipt, through pre-cooking and final cooking. The number of meals served at each food serving station was recorded and aggregated on a daily basis. Every item of waste food was recorded manually on a daily sheet including the type of food, the weight and the reason for the waste. The financial value of the wastage was calculated every day and aggregated over the duration of the contract. There was no formal audit of this process by LOCOG or Aramark but the comparison of any gaps between food supplied, consumed and wasted was reviewed daily by both the operational and finance teams. If food was being thrown away and not recorded, Aramark is confident this would have been picked up. LOCOG did not audit this process but there was oversight by catering managers. LOCOG and Aramark endeavoured to re-distribute any un-used food that was safe to eat by operating a “Swap Shop” between caterers and by distributing food to staff and volunteers through the numerous workforce canteens. We have been advised by LOCOG that donations to charity proved to be difficult due to the very large quantities involved, short notice that food was available, the short shelf-life of food and the logistics of transporting food from areas operated under high security.

Review

The Commission was shown the output from this process including the file of daily waste logs, daily menus, food supply records and financial analysis of any food waste. We did not take copies due to the commercial confidentiality of the information. We did not conduct a detailed audit of the information supplied. However, the data tabled by Aramark and LOCOG indicates that Aramark has been performing well within its 5% target. The waste figures at Royal Holloway were relatively higher than those for the Olympic Village due to the dual locations used by the athletes, but this venue was still comfortably within target. Among the photographs presented by BBC London News, there was a large quantity of yoghurt being poured down a sink. The waste yoghurt was recorded and the reason for its disposal explained (food hygiene). It should have been composted and not poured down the sink.

Conclusions

Our review of the evidence presented by BBC London News and LOCOG suggests that there is reasonable consistency between the reports of the whistle blowers and Aramark’s records. While the quantities of waste may appear high in absolute terms, they appear to have been properly recorded and are well within the 5% target, which is very challenging compared to usual practice in the event industry. Aramark categorically denied the statement made by the whistle blowers that food was being cooked specifically for the purpose of disposal. We were unable to validate either statement directly although we recognise that it would not be in Aramark’s interests to risk reputational damage arising from manipulating its contractual conditions in this manner. The Commission had been advised by LOCOG that there will be a rigorous financial reconciliation as part of the contract closing-out period, which will be subject to standard financial audit procedures. We would expect that a cross-check of financial tallies with consumption and waste figures would occur as part of this reconciliation process.

September 2012 

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