16 October In
A plea to Defra and the FSA – please don’t take a chance on public health
On a recent journey home from the station I took a spur of the moment decision to buy the weekly shop. Having not planned this supermarket visit I had no carrier bags in the car besides which we use ours to pick up litter including the dog’s.
I am a carrier bag 5p charge refusnik but as I was buying a lot of fresh ready to eat fruit I was certain I would be given bags for these items as per the law. However (and bearing in mind this was a top 5 grocer by market share) no instructions to staff had been given regarding not charging for bags for ready to eat fruit or indeed for fresh meat. The manager came over and admitted total and utter confusion and asked where he might be able to find some guidance. Being my second occurrence (previously in a different store) it is pretty obvious there is huge confusion as to when to charge for a bag. When I pointed out the my fruit was entitled to a bag I was told by one store manager although they were aware they had been told not to supply bags for fruit but to sell a heavier weight bag for 10p.
Both store managers admitted a large number of customers refuse to pay for bags and it isn’t unusual to find customers walking out of the store past security guards holding an assortment of products. It will be interesting to see if theft from stores increases.
Defra has undoubtedly failed to provide clear information to the trade. The Scottish Government provided easy to follow guidance when they introduced a charge on all bags.
A number of businesses employing less than 250 full time equivalent employees have stated that despite being exempt from the law they will be charging for a bag . If this includes takeaways then customers may prefer to use their own bags rather than pay the charge. if this is happening we should be very concerned.
The Food Standards Agency correctly has issued guidelines to the public regarding the reuse of bags. Keep bags for ready to eat foods separate from those used for meat and fish to avoid the risk of contamination.
So we have a combination of retailer confusion and a risk to public health by the reuse of bags for ready to eat unwrapped and partially wrapped food.
We therefore make an urgent plea to the Food Standards Agency. Please issue a clear and unambiguous statement that under no circumstances should ready to eat food prepared on the premises be placed in a bag brought to the store by customers. This will send a very clear message that protecting the public’s health is of prime importance.
To the Government we say takeaway food needs a new bag each time and, irrespective of the material from which it is made, it should be supplied to the consumer at no charge. Government, by seeking to protect the public’s health, you will not lose face by changing your mind.