How Olio keeps your food safe: A deep-dive with the experts

Catering 7 min read

An interview with Sterling Crew, president of the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST)

At Olio, keeping food donated by our partner businesses 100% safe is at the heart of what we do. 

For that reason, a few months ago, we interviewed two long-time Olio friends and advisers – Jo Betts (Environmental Health Officer at South Derbyshire District Council) and Sterling Crew (President of the IFST) – to dig into how we’ve created an innovative, cast-iron Food Safety Management System. 

For this blog, Sterling is back for another food safety deep dive. This time, we get technical – covering some of the most frequently asked food safety questions we get from stakeholders, and why our redistribution solution really is the best (and safest!) one in the business. 

Food safety is high on the agenda for lots of businesses – why is that? What are the risks associated with not complying with food safety regulations? 

Sterling: From large corporations, to SMEs  and even corner shops – all businesses have brands. So it’s no wonder that a businesses’ first thought when evaluating a solution like Olio is – “Could this somehow damage our brand? What are the reputational risks of something going wrong?”. For that reason, food safety has to come first. Always. 

What in your experience are the things that businesses find the hardest to understand about Olio’s redistribution solution?

Sterling: Normally, there’s three things:

  • They can’t believe our volunteers don’t have to register as a food business, and that Olio takes primary responsibility for food once it’s been collected from businesses.
  • They can’t believe that volunteers can safely store chilled food in their own fridges.
  • They can’t believe that we’ve had 0 confirmed food safety incidents since we were founded. 

And I can understand that, if someone doesn’t have the background or context of what we’ve agreed in our Assured Advice with our Primary Authority, perhaps some of those points do sound a bit crazy. 

But we’ve spent hours working with all the right people in the food safety industry to make sure our processes are 100% robust, legal and sound. And about that last point on 0 confirmed food safety incidents, I always say – “the proof is in the pudding”.  That’s just confirmation that the system we’ve devised really works! 

What are some of the most common questions you’ve heard businesses ask about Olio? 

Sterling: We get asked a lot about that liability piece, and how that’s possible. We also get questions on sharing allergen info, and how we’d cope with an emergency like a product recall, for example.

So let’s answer those questions! Could you shed a bit more light on how Olio becomes liable for the food once it’s taken on by volunteers? 

Sterling: Contractually, once our volunteers collect food from the businesses we work with, Olio takes primary responsibility for it. That means that, as long as the food that our clients hand over to us is in good condition, we take full responsibility if anything goes wrong after that. By “after that”, I mean over the course of its journey to the homes of our volunteers and until it’s shared with the local people that request it.

And what about allergen info?

Sterling: We ask businesses to share a full list of allergens (and ingredients, depending on the type of food) for the products or dishes they donate through Olio, which we store digitally for them or that our volunteers collect on site. That means anyone using the app can check what’s in food donated by businesses. 

And can we talk through Olio’s  product recall capabilities?

Sterling: The wonderful thing about Olio is that all food shared on the app is fully traceable. That means there’s full oversight of its journey, starting from when it’s donated by the business, through to which volunteer collects it, and where it ends up. 

That means that if ever there’s an emergency like a product recall, the Olio team can quickly and efficiently isolate affected users, and send out a message to raise the alarm.

Olio stores allergen information for all food donated by partner businesses

Next, could you explain how Olio works in partnership with different industry bodies and experts? 

Sterling: As well as working with me, Olio has established really close relationships with two key partners to offer guidance on their food safety protocols. They work hand-in-hand, but don’t give advice on the same thing.

The first is South Derbyshire District council. They’re Olio’s Primary Authority and EHO, and they help make sure that Olio has implemented food safety regulation properly. They’re also the ones that give Olio its “Assured Advice”, and confirms that everything in your Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is compliant with food regulations. 

Then there’s Derbyshire County Council, which is  a local branch of the Food Standards Agency. They help Olio interpret food safety regulations.

These relationships are in line with Olio’s principle of total transparency – technically, you don’t have to have relationships like this with regulators, but we voluntarily keep in touch – reaching out to them once a month to share updates, data and any proposed changes. After all, we’re always iterating – we’re in a good place, but complacency is our biggest enemy. 

With nearly 100,000 volunteers, how do you make 100% sure everyone’s following the rules? 

Sterling: I’ve seen how  much thought the Olio team has put into the training and guidance for its volunteers. As well as comprehensive induction modules, volunteers also get period pop-up quizzes presented to them in the app, to make sure that they don’t just do the training and forget everything. And Olio is so lucky with the calibre of volunteers it attracts. They all genuinely care about the mission, and for that reason, take food safety seriously. 

Volunteers are all members of “squad chats”, which is a forum they can use to discuss any food safety questions with other volunteers, to check they’re doing things right. 

Plus, Olio has excellent flagging functionality, which means it’s really easy to report anything untowards, which results in food getting automatically unlisted (and in some rare edge cases, bad actors getting suspended). 

Why should a business trust Olio with their food? 

Sterling: As I’ve already said – some people think we’re crazy when we talk them through how Olio works.

But the one thing I always come back to is that Olio has put the time in working with the experts, and has listened to the science, and to the law. 

All the decisions we’ve made, and the system we’ve ended up with, is driven by facts. 

And there’s been no confirmed food safety incidents to date. I just can’t stress that enough. It works. 

About Sterling 

Sterling is a  regulator with 40 years experience in food safety, spanning manufacturing, the retail sector, and the branded world. Thanks to that, he has a uniquely rounded perspective of the global food system.

In Sterling’s own words: “I came onboard to help Olio because I really believe in the moral mission of what they’re doing. You don’t have to do much research to see that the environmental impact of food waste is just devastating. And there’s a huge opportunity – and obligation – for businesses to do something about it. Which they can do with Olio.  

Having worked with big names like Tesco, M&S, and Coca-Cola, I know that CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)  is really high up on the agenda. These businesses are trying to do good – after all, fighting food waste makes good business sense as well as good moral sense, and looks great in front of both consumers and shareholders. 

So, I wanted to help Olio make that possible in a simple and safe way, so it really is a no-brainer for businesses to join the mission.”