Sainsbury’s and M&S suspend partnerships with Real Junk Food Project over trading standards investigation

Major retailers Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer (M&S) have suspended their partnerships with surplus food redistribution organisation The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP) over an investigation by West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service (WYTSS) into accusations of selling out-of-date produce, instigated last week (6 June).

In a post on TRJFP’s Facebook page, the organisation, which diverts food waste from landfill and cooks and serves it in its chain of cafes and waste ‘supermarket’, revealed that Sainsbury’s and M&S, via the food waste redistribution app Neighbourly, had notified TRJFP of their decision to terminate their agreements with them until the issue under investigation has been resolved.

Last week, TRJFP founder Adam Smith received a formal invitation from WYTSS on 6 June to attend a recorded interview under caution, which he was later notified would take place the next day at 10am.

Sainsbury’s and M&S suspend partnerships with Real Junk Food Project over trading standards investigation
The Real Junk Food Project's warehouse in Pudsey, Leeds

The letter claimed that WYTSS officers found 444 items in the waste food charity’s warehouse on the Grangefield Industrial Estate in Leeds that were past their use-by-date, something which Smith told Resource the RJFP had “not been shy” about, and indeed actively promotes the fact that it sells food that is considered to have expired.

Despite the interview being adjourned after Smith requested extra time to seek legal advice, Sainsbury’s and M&S, via Neighbourly, have asked to have their agreements with the RJFP cancelled with immediate effect.

‘Until this issue is resolved’

The Facebook post included correspondence from Sainsbury’s and Neighbourly with the RJFP, detailing the reasons for the cancellation of the agreements.

The message from Neighbourly stated: ‘Unfortunately, it has been brought to our attention that Armley Junk-tion [TRJFP’s warehouse] in Leeds has not complied with Neighbourly Food terms and conditions… We are therefore going to suspend food surplus donations to you until we’ve had the opportunity to review the situation further. During this time you will not be approved to collect food from the partners associated with the Neighbourly Food programme. However, we welcome the opportunity to discuss your approach.’

Meanwhile, the message from Sainsbury’s read: ‘We have been made aware that The Real Junk Food Project in West Yorkshire is being investigated by Trading Standards for a potential breach in the supply of unsafe food…

‘We’re sorry to hear about this and hope the matter will be resolved quickly. Given the issue represents a potential breach of clause 15 and 18 of the agreements that we have with your charity and fifteen Sainsbury’s stores in the Leeds area, we are going to need to terminate our agreements with The Real Junk Food Project in West Yorkshire until this issue is resolved. As such, please accept this mail as our one weeks’ [sic] notice effective from today as agreed in our contract. We’d ask though that the termination is made from immediate effect, and of course we can review our partnerships once the matter has been settled.’

In response to these e-mails, the Facebook post calls the decisions ‘a knee jerk reaction’, despite TRJFP ‘not currently being under investigation’ by WYTSS, since the formal interview last week was adjourned until further notice in order for Adam Smith to seek legal advice. 

The post claims that: ‘No offence has been committed. No one has become ill, yet both organisations have claimed TRJFP are guilty before proving otherwise. This will result in dozens of tons of perfectly edible food being wasted.’

Meanwhile, when contacted by Resource over whether the investigation into TRJFP was ongoing, WYTSS appeared to confirm that it was, saying: ‘West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service is unable to comment on the detail of any ongoing investigation except to say that the proprietor of Real Junk Food Project will be able to put forward information as part of the investigation process and that this will then inform the decision on what, if any, action will be taken.’

Since news of the investigation broke, TRJFP has received much support, with food waste campaigner and celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall publicly coming out behind Adam Smith and the TRJFP, while a petition to be delivered to the Food Standards Agency and MPs asking for a review of best before and expiry dates has currently gained 3,587 signatures out of its 5,000 target.

To find out more about the work carried out by The Real Junk Food Project, visit the charity’s website.

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