Government funding for tuckshops and school canteens will support food safety and healthy food options – but is it enough?

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

“The Queensland Association of School Tuckshops (QAST) is very pleased that the Queensland Government has committed $49 million in the past two years for school playground and tuckshop upgrades,” QAST Senior Projects Manager, Deanne Wooden told EducationDaily. “Whilst this seems an enormous amount of money, at this stage only 40 schools are receiving upgrades to their tuckshops.”

But with more than 1450 schools with tuckshops in Queensland, including many that have not been upgraded in several years, Ms Wooden says there needs “to be a lot more investment to ensure tuckshop facilities are up to scratch from a food safety perspective”.

“Many also struggle to prepare healthy, tuckshop-made meals, due to lack of equipment and adequate space for preparation and cooking,” she says.

Currently in Queensland, state school tuckshops are not bound by the Food Act 2006. This means that they do not need to have a food licence and are not required by law to have a Food Safety Supervisor on site. It also means that the recent changes with the introduction of National Food Safety Standard, 3.2.2A – Food Safety Management Tools across Australia does not apply to state school tuckshops in Queensland.

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“The purpose of the new standard is to reduce the rate of foodborne illnesses linked to poor handling of food in food service, catering and retail food businesses – including school canteens – but Queensland misses out on this safeguard,” Ms Wooden told EducationDaily.

“We know that healthy school tuckshops are a high priority for Queensland parents,” she says. “Tuckshop is no longer just a treat; for many it is a necessity.”

New research has shown that 88 per cent of parents believe it is important that school tuckshops offer healthy food and drink options to children. Health and Wellbeing Queensland’s recent research report, Eating out in Queensland: Understanding the drivers behind food choice, showed that 39 per cent of respondents reported ordering from the tuckshop once a week or more, while 65 per cent use the service on a monthly basis.

“With more than 870,000 children currently enrolled in government and non-government schools across Queensland, based on this research, we can comfortably assume that hundreds of thousands of families are relying on their school tuckshop at least once a week to feed their children,” Ms Wooden says.

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Queensland parents, she says, need to have access to tuckshop food that is nutritious, appealing and affordable.

“As the cost of living goes up, tuckshops are an essential service for busy families who may not have the ingredients at home to prepare a healthy lunch for their children.”

Funding for schools in Western Australia has a focus on healthy eating

In August 2023, the announcement that fifty-five schools across Western Australia (WA) have shared more than $217,000 in Healthway funding to implement projects that will increase the health and wellbeing of their students and the school community was welcome news.

Healthway’s Healthy Schools Program has delivered $517,000 to 133 schools in Western Australia (WA) since it launched last year.

Healthway chief executive Ralph Addis said this latest funding round – with $5000 grants made available to successful applicants –  was prioritised to support vaping and healthy eating projects.

“This was in response to the growing concern about the rising trends in use and harmful effects of vaping across WA and the continued importance of promoting healthy eating behaviours throughout childhood and adolescence,” he said in a media release announcing the funding.

“The grants will empower schools to implement positive and innovative health strategies to improve the health of the whole school community.”

New grants for WA canteens help promote safe food handling and healthy eating

WA Schools Canteen Association (WASCA) Chief Executive Officer, Megan Sauzier is proud to announce that applications for their own canteen grants – the Robin Bromley Visionary Grants – are now open.

“Three schools will be awarded $1,000 to be used to increase the capacity of school canteen staff with training and/or to purchase essential equipment,” Ms Sauzier told EducationDaily. “This year we are encouraging a focus on food safety. Canteen supervisors can complete Food Safety Supervisor training and purchase equipment such as probe thermometers, aprons and hats, pedal bins, colour-coded chopping boards and good quality knives.”

Ensuring safe food in school canteens

Everyone working with food in schools, says Ms Sauzier, has a personal responsibility to handle food safely and understand their legal responsibilities around the new National Food Safety Standard and, with support and training from WASCA, parent canteen volunteers can feel confident they are meeting critical compliance.

Following a recent training session, the Canteen Supervisor from WA’s St Benedict’s School took action for improved food safety operations, including creating a food safety information board for staff and volunteers to see, and replacing bins.

Managing food allergies in school canteens

Research shows that one in 10 babies, one in 20 young teens and one in 50 adults have food allergies. Most schools have many children who have been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening food allergy. School canteens can make food selection from the canteen a safer, positive experience for students with food allergy. According to the National Allergy Council key strategies for school canteens include:

  1. Having good cleaning practices
  2. Storing food appropriately
  3. Preventing cross-contamination
  4. Separation of spaces and time when preparing food
  5. Serving food appropriately.

While the latest funding news is a win for some Queensland and Western Australian schools now able to access important training, or refurbish tired old tuckshops and canteens to meet food safety standards, many schools are hoping they may be next in line – to help them deliver the fresh, healthy food that is so important to maintain and nurture the active minds and bodies of young Australian students.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]