Environmental health complaint over East Lothian Sunday Fresh Chicken Dinner

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AN INITIATIVE set up last year to help those in difficulty to enjoy a fresh homecooked meal had to pause part of its service after a member of the public reported it to environmental health.

East Lothian Sunday Fresh Chicken Dinner Boxes was set up last Christmas by Jane Russell, from Prestonpans, to deliver meal kits of fresh food to people across the county.

During lockdown, Jane and her volunteers also started offering pre-cooked meals to vulnerable people.

However, this part of the group’s service was brought to a halt after a member of the public reported her to environmental health.

For the organisation’s new cooked meal offering, the food was cooked off-site by a catering company and delivered by Jane and her volunteers, something she did not know was not allowed.

Jane was forced to supply slow cookers along with the meal kits, with 36 handed out so far.

A £600 donation from the Walk With Scott Foundation and £200 from Lodge Thorntree, based in Prestonpans, enabled their purchase.

Jane said: “The cooking was done in another kitchen that follows all the correct guidelines but we weren’t allowed to pass it on as a third party.

“The only thing I thought I could do was purchase slow cookers.

“People deserve a healthy, hearty meal. I don’t want to see people struggling and don’t want anyone to miss out. I don’t want to have to stop helping people.

“Our delivery is sometimes the only fresh meal a family eats that week and it encourages them to cook together.”

The project has delivered more than 6,000 meal kits since December 5 last year.

A kit costs the organisation £9; it usually consists of fresh meat, vegetables, sides, sauces, spices and dessert.

It started off with roast chicken but, as food purchase restrictions were introduced during lockdown and the need grew, so did its offerings, with more than 30 different boxes now on offer.

Recipe cards are also added to give people ideas for what to make with their leftovers.

Other items are often donated, including toiletries and cleaning products, which are also given to families.

Donations continue to pour in from members of the public, community groups, local businesses, schools and supermarkets, something Jane said was “overwhelming”.

Now it is the festive season, Christmas items are also being donated. Soup packs, Christmas Eve boxes, hampers and a three-course Christmas dinner are being delivered to families.

All of the food not used is passed on to other charities.

Originally based at Jane’s house on Harlawhill Gardens, the project soon grew and moved into Harlawhill Day Centre, where it has been based since January.

But the centre is looking to reopen next year and, due to coronavirus restrictions, the space cannot be shared.

Jane, who described the centre as a “godsend”, said: “It’s bittersweet as we are absolutely delighted the day centre might be able to reopen as they so deserve it and are the heart and soul in the community.”

The project is currently operating out of the Masonic Lodge in Prestonpans, and has been given permanent use of its upstairs function room.

Those who wish to donate to the initiative can do so at justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jane-russell-1. For more information, visit facebook.com/eastboxes

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “East Lothian Sunday Fresh Chicken Dinner is registered with environmental health as a food packer and distributor of food boxes in original manufacturer packaging and they have provided invaluable support to their local community during the pandemic.

“More recently, environmental health followed up on information made about the delivery of hot meals and advised that this practice needed to temporarily stop until required food safety controls, including the identification of food preparation areas, temperature control and food handling practices, were put in place.



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