A Driving Instructor's Blog

Food

Raw Chicken BreastsThe raw (and probably some of the in-store cooked) chicken sold at stores like Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, The Co-op, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s is supplied by a company called 2 Sisters Food Group, based in Birmingham. It was founded in 1993 and has an annual revenue of over £3 billion. It has numerous subsidiaries, including Fox’s Biscuits.

Following an undercover operation involving ITV and The Guardian, it was revealed this week that workers at the West Bromwich plant had been changing the slaughter dates of chicken processed there. The company was also taking food back from supermarkets and repackaging and redistributing it. They are currently being investigated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a result.

Back in 2013, 2 Sisters was fined £100,000 by FSA for shelf life date offences. In 2014, chicken which had been dropped on the factory floor at the Scunthorpe site was seen to be put back on the production line during an investigation into high levels of campylobacter in the UK food chain. 2 Sisters admitted to breaches of the rules, but was not fined.

In an update to the current issue, 2 Sisters has “suspended operations”. It isn’t explicitly stated that this suspension applies to just the West Bromwich plant, but I assume that’s what it means. But this is the part that sends shivers up my spine:

The 2 Sisters Food Group said staff at its site in the West Midlands will need to be “appropriately retrained” before it starts resupplying customers…

…the company said an internal investigation had shown “some isolated instances of non-compliance” at its plant in West Bromwich.

“We have therefore decided to temporarily suspend operations at the site to allow us the time to retrain all colleagues, including management, in all food safety and quality management systems.”

All staff will remain on full pay and take part in training on site, it added.

The thing that is clear is that someone somewhere was openly committing a crime – quite probably documented on film, one would assume, if ITV was involved. Even if those people were acting independently, they were still guilty, but it is more realistic to suppose that they were following orders, which widens the net both outwards and upwards.

So it makes you wonder how “retraining” of “colleagues” addresses this fairly obvious conclusion, and how being paid a full salary in the meantime goes anywhere near dealing with it appropriately.

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A Big MacThis is an Australian story, but it reports that McDonald’s over there is about to take “one of the biggest risks in the company’s history” by introducing fresh beef patties to its menu. Apparently, ordering one adds about a minute to your waiting time, since the fresh beef patties are prepared to order, whereas the normal type are made ahead of time and kept warm until required.

I had to do a bit of a double-take when I read that, because in the UK it seems to be standard practice for McDonald’s restaurants not to prepare anything ahead of time, and to cook everything to order. At the drive-thru, a simple order of a cheeseburger can get you a ten-minute wait in one of the bays. I have gone inside to demand my money back on more than one occasion, and I’ve complained to head office at least twice. To be fair, most branches have improved, but I absolutely refuse to say anything positive about motorway branches, because late at night they have to cook everything. There is nothing ready. But I digress: a whole minute is nothing in the UK compared to what is “normal” over here.

They already do these fresh beef patties in America:

A customer in Dallas named Tracy Moore told Reuters that she’s going to stop patronizing the fast-food chain, which she currently visits every day, if the wait time doesn’t improve.

“If it’s going to be that long every time, I won’t order it. I’d go elsewhere,” she said, after ordering the new fresh-beef Quarter Pounder at a McDonald’s drive thru and being told to pull into a parking spot to wait several minutes until it was ready.

She doesn’t know she’s born! Oh, what I wouldn’t give to only have to wait “several minutes”. Sorry, digressing again.

The article adds:

Improving service has been a primary goal of McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook over the last couple years. He has cut dozens of items from the fast-food chain’s menu to try and simplify and speed up kitchen operations.

I think he’s barking up the wrong tree, though he may be doing it deliberately, and attacking a secondary issue to protect the primary one.

In the UK, absolutely the only reason there is a delay to service is that there is nothing ready and they have to prepare it. They might have a few bits ready, but the days when the rack behind the counter would be stacked with carton after carton of Big Macs and other burgers are long gone. If it’s busy, they run out and you have to wait, and if it’s quiet there’s nothing ready anyway and you have to wait. The franchise holder – McDonald’s restaurants are all franchised – does it to reduce waste. No wait, let me rephrase that – he does it to save money.

Three key words in McDonald’s business are: SERVICE, WASTE, COST.

Once upon a time, service was far and away the most important aspect at McDonalds. As time has gone by it has passed through waste, and now sits firmly entrenched in cost. But what Steve Easterbrook seems to have forgotten (I know he hasn’t, really, even  if it looks like he has) is that fast food is low margin. You make money by shifting tonnes of the stuff, not by glamming it up, and you can’t shift any of it if there isn’t any to shift.

It’s funny when you consider that for each Big Mac costing £2.99, about £0.75 of that is gross profit to the restaurant, about £0.80 covers the materials, and the rest is down to labour costs. It’s even funnier when you consider that if a McDonald’s branch pisses me off, I won’t go in again for months (in the case of Clifton, years) just on principle. The manager’s decision not to risk having to throw away just over £2 guarantees he will lose £2.99 from me, and that woman in Dallas suggests I may not be the only one.

On a slightly different topic, a couple of the Facebook posts below the article made me smile.

Drewy Alf Phillips - a veganThis character is a vegan and he makes the assertion that eating meat and dairy gives you cancer. Someone challenges him, and he then goes on to declare that vegans do not need to take supplements as a result of not eating meat and dairy.

Actually, Mr Phillips, most vegan-friendly nutritionists and doctors – many of whom are vegans themselves – point out that Vitamin B12 supplements are pretty much essential for vegans, since this cannot be obtained reliably outside meat and dairy.

Organisations like The Vegan Society don’t make such a big deal out of things if they’re not important or significant.

This dietitian at Vegan R.D. goes further and suggests that as well as B12 supplements being important for all vegans, most should also take Vitamin D and Iodine supplements, and some should also consider Calcium and Iron.

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WeetabixI’ve written before of my still-recurring nightmares about Teamworking and the hell I had to put up with for the final ten years of my time in the rat race. Not that long ago, Sainsbury’s made the mistake of allowing “the Team” to become involved in things which were really none of their business, and which were well beyond their wit to consider the full implications involved. Of course, also of similar magnitude on the Stupid Scale was the Boaty McBoatface fiasco, and the “decision” to leave the EU.

It’s just what happens when idiots allow even bigger idiots to become involved in important decision making.

Weetabix has now had a go at demonstrating how stupid its staff are, and is just as guilty of not ring-fencing the situation as Sainsbury’s and the British Government (specifically, ex-PM David Cameron) were to protect itself from the subsequent and inevitable bad publicity.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Weetabix is a breakfast cereal which, in its most common form, comes as formed blocks of cereal. Like any 21st Century cereal, on its own it tastes like cardboard, and is only rendered edible – it’s actually rather nice – by the addition of milk and a little sugar sprinkled on top. Technically, it only remains “nice” for a few minutes before it turns into a gloop that is almost identical to wallpaper paste, but that’s a different story.

Weetabix staff appear to have held a brainstorming session at some point (this is by its own admission), and “the Team” came up with the idea of putting ham and poached eggs on the top! It’s apparently a “British version of Eggs Benedict”. Weetabix management is now frantically trying to underplay the negative reaction to it:

Weetabix admitted staff got “a ‘little’ enthusiastic” during a brainstorming session, adding it “seemed like a good idea at the time”.

“We hope we can put this behind us and still make breakfast work, perhaps with something more traditional like milk and fruit,” they added.

“This recipe is for those who like a little more adventure with their cereal.”

I don’t doubt that there will be some who go so far as to try it – and even claim it tastes good. But of course, some people voted for “Boaty McBoatface” and Brexit.


Incidentally, Weetabix management seems to be turning lack of control over its staff into a bit of a habit. I’ve noticed a few times now that there is a new advert for LIQUID Weetabix – a so-called “breakfast drink”. I have to avert my eyes when it comes on, as it makes me want to throw up. Gloopy Weetabix is bad enough, but a version which is manufactured so it is pre-gloopy (or conveys that image) is just obscene.

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Heinz Ketchup bottlesI’ve seen this in various newspapers today (including online ones). The BBC refers to it as a “Ketchup debate”, but in reality there is nothing to debate. The silly saga has come about because an Asda branch in London has started stacking it in chiller cabinets instead of on the shelves with other condiments, as they have always done until now.

Irrespective of what the so-called experts have said in the articles, which is very little, ketchup is cooked during manufacture and packed into bottles while it is still at about 90°C. It is deaerated first to further reduce the risk of microbial growth, and it contains vinegar, salt, and sugar, which help act as preservatives. The bottles are sealed and cooled, so it is under a partial vacuum until someone opens it to use it. In effect, until the seal is broken, it is pretty much sterile.

To that end, unopened ketchup can – and should – be stored at room temperature, with no adverse effects. Storing it in the fridge is a waste of time and money, and since it uses more energy it’s also negative for the environment.

Once opened, bacteria and yeasts immediately get inside the bottle. It’s even worse if it’s café ketchup, because it will probably be a cheaper brand, and all the dirty scumbags who seem to frequent cafés will have poked their used knives inside to dislodge it (Heinz themselves encouraged this in one of their stupid adverts – ketchup used to be as thick as putty, but subsequent reformulations have rendered it more like thick soup, making knife-poking a pointless exercise).

Dirty practices, natural contamination, and cost-cutting and pseudo-health driven reformulations which have reduced the preserving power of ketchup, mean that it ferments in the bottle once opened – readily when warm, but even when stored in the fridge, though to a much lesser extent. Unless someone has poked something nasty into it with the knife they’ve previously had in their mouth, this fermentation is usually harmless. But it does mean that any ketchup stuck in the neck of a bottle is likely to leap out at you next time you open the lid. It’s happened to me a few times in the past, which is why I always correctly store part-used ketchup in the fridge.

As if this weren’t enough, Heinz themselves state you can store unopened ketchup in a cupboard, but you should refrigerate it once opened and use it within (I think) eight weeks, though eight weeks is a bit conservative in my experience. So what’s to debate? It’s more a case of letting idiots have their say (a lot like Brexit, really), even though anything other than the Heinz advice (or “remain”) is completely wrong.

That’s what’s the matter with the world today! People don’t get told they’re wrong, anymore. They just give dumb opinions which become part of general “knowledge”.

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Gala PieI reckon that Salt Awareness Week ran concurrently with Clueless Week, with participants in the latter generating publicity for the former. While reading a shock-horror story about salt in crumpets, I discovered this MSN news feed on the subject and, as a chemist, immediately realised that those responsible for Salt Awareness Week – some idiots claiming to be ‘doctors’ at treated.com – haven’t got a clue.

As an aside, I bought some of the usual Christmas provisions from Asda this week. One item was a Gala Pie which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a bit like a pork pie with a hard boiled egg in the middle. I had a slice of it today and I can only describe the taste as something akin to eating cardboard wrapped around raw tofu. In other words, flavourless – and this is purely a result of it having no salt in it.

I’ve written about salt many times before (use the site’s search field to find posts), pointing out that there is no conclusive evidence that salt is bad for you unless you eat a bucket of it a day (and a bucket of spring water would also probably kill you). In most cases, my point has been that taking salt out of food renders it flavourless, since salt is a flavour enhancer.

Current ‘wisdom’ says that you should not eat more than 6g of salt a day (around one teaspoon). Since salt is a chemical compound of sodium and chlorine, and it is the sodium which is the alleged problem, 6g of salt is equivalent to about 2.4g of sodium. But what these ‘experts’ fail to clarify or delve into is that many natural foods contain sodium in the first place. A 100g portion of virtually any fish contains at least a fifth of your daily recommended daily sodium intake (RDA). A similar portion of any cheese contains between a fifth and more than a half of your RDA. Almost any unprocessed food item contains sodium in measurable amounts, so you’re going to get sodium whether you like it or not.

Without getting into the minefield of whether 6g of salt applies just to added salt or all sodium from any source, let’s get back to that Salt Awareness thing. They had identified the top 20 ‘saltiest snacks’ and expressed the results ‘per 100g. Thus, Peperami was no. 2 on the list as having 4.1g of salt. The problem is that a single Peperami only weighs 25g, and that ‘shocking’ figure assumes that you eat four of them.

They also dissed Space Raiders Pickled Onion snacks, at no. 3,  for having 3.3g of salt. Except that a single 22g pack of these only contains about 0.6g of salt. You can see how misleading this is.

At no. 14 was Babybel, those little cheese circles you can buy, with 1.8g of salt. A single Babybel weighs 22g, and so contains  only 0.4g of salt.

At no. 16 there was the obligatory slur on Heinz’s Tomato Ketchup, also with 1.8g of salt. But a typical serving of ketchup is about the same weight as a Babybel, so again only contains 0.4g of salt.

And my favourite one is Dairylea Cheese Triangles, with 1.7g of salt. A single triangle weighs 17.5g, so you’d have to eat almost the whole pack to be anywhere near 1.7g.

Then there is Hellman’s Mayonnaise, with 1.6g of salt. Except that depending on how you use it, a single serving of Hellman’s can be as little as 10g – or less than 0.2g of salt.

The fact that there are people who are so stupid as to eat ten Peperamis or half a bottle of ketchup in a single sitting is irrelevant. The fact remains that the figures provided are purposely misleading about a subject which no one understands.

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This nanny state gets ever worse. You can’t buy anything these days that tastes any good because they’ve removed the bloody salt and sugar from it. I had a couple of hash browns from McDonalds this morning and they were devoid of flavour (they only have any if they’re crispy, and mine were bordering on soggy).Tomato Soup

When I came home I saw this article aggregated by MSN from the Huffington Post. Neither of them are to blame for anything – the real pain in the arse is a British food nanny TV show called ‘Tricks of the Restaurant Trade’. They’ve apparently made the ‘shocking’ discovery that when you add dressing to salad, the calories go up, and that hot tomato soup contains added salt and sugar.

They cited Greggs, whose Cream of Tomato Soup claims to contain 5.7g of sugar per 300g portion – but which, when measured, was found to contain over 25g. My guess here is that Greggs calculated how much sugar they had added to their recipe, and omitted the sugar already there from the tomatoes. Take 300g of canned tomatoes and you’d find over 13g of sugar naturally present, so add another 6g and you’re not far off what Greggs claimed (the TV crew also had a larger sample than 300g and declared the total sugars, and were too stupid to adjust the figures pro rata – probably to make Greggs look bad on purpose).

Greggs has said it will reformulate if necessary – but they should leave it alone. If they take out the added sugar it’ll just be like eating tomatoes, and you don’t need much help if you just want to do that.Mackerel

Then there was the startling case of the Big Mack Salad. This is a Mackerel salad, which was found to contain about 760 calories – and which sent everyone apoplectic. What they didn’t point out (and probably didn’t know because they hadn’t bothered to look it up) is that a typical single serving of Mackerel on its own – raw – would contain about 430 calories. Add a mere 30mls of Olive Oil and you’re up to 700 calories right away. Add a bit of sugar and you have your explanation without any need for a stupid Channel 4 shit stirring show. In light of this, comparing the salad’s calorie content to ‘an average fried breakfast’ as though the Big Mack is something heinous is so misleading it is plain wrong.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when you involve someone like Amanda Ursell – a ‘nutritionist’. You see, anyone can become a nutritionist – the name is not registered, nor is the ‘profession’ regulated – so the title is pretty much meaningless. However, it does attract a certain demographic, and if you’re lucky enough to be blonde, female, photogenic, and emanate from the Home Counties, then you’ll have a career in television ready to fall into your lap with very little effort on your part.

People like Ursell love to compare various foods with ‘spoons of sugar’ or ‘grams of salt’ as if there is some sort of problem, and yet the only ‘problem’ is their own vague understanding of the issue and their inability to understand science properly. They can’t get it into their thick skulls that food contains calories, and these calories often come from fats and sugars.

They even had a go at Wasabi’s Sushi boxes for having too many carbs, and likened it to ‘seven slices of bread’. More simple maths: a slice of bread has 80 calories, so seven slices is 560 calories. Cooked sushi rice is about 140 calories per 100g, so four sushi rolls would have a similar overall calorific value from carbs. It’s like, wow, rice has carbohydrates in it. In fact, it is what it is, and nothing more.

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On the surface of it, this story from Cosmopolitan (no, I don’t read it – this was an MSN aggregate feed) had me all “ooh! I must try that”. But then I did a quick, mental reality check.Potatoes

In the real world, potatoes usually have ‘eyes’ and other bits you don’t want. If they are anything other than straight out of the ground, they develop various dark patches which extend several millimetres deep into the flesh. Store-bought ones may have gashes which go deeper still. And however hard you try to stop them, they WILL start to sprout – especially in warmer weather. Some will have odd, natural, and very deep creases – almost as if two potatoes have fused together, but retained their individual identities.

I gave up peeling potatoes using a knife many years ago. My favoured way of peeling spuds is to use a peeler like this one (this is the OXO Good Grips Peeler, but I have used others over the years).OXO Good Grips Potato Peeler

It also peels carrots, swedes, and pretty much anything else with a skin. The best part is that if you have an ‘eye’ or other blemish, you just give it a few more scrapes and take it down until the unwanted feature has been pared away. You can peel enough potatoes for four people in just a few minutes, and you NEVER cut yourself (unless you’re stupid).

The potatoes – well, I should say ‘potato’, since there is only one featured – used in the demonstration video are absolutely perfect. Nothing like those you’d want to peel at home.

This ‘new’ method involves cutting a slit in the skin, then placing the potato in boiling water. It effectively cooks the flesh next to the skin, which therefore goes soft, and the skin then appears to come off just like sliding off a glove. I might give it a try next time I get a chance, but in all honesty I think my peeler is probably much less bother.

Incidentally, if you buy potatoes in bulk like I do – whole sacks of Maris Pipers – they stay fresh MUCH longer if you transfer them to a proper Hessian (Burlap in America) potato sack. Store the sack in a cool dark place.

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Many of you will have heard the stories about dumb labels. It’s sometimes hard to work out which end of the chain is the dumbest – the designer or the user – but whatever the reason, it is deemed necessary to state the most obvious facts in the most patronising way possible on many things that you buy.Lidl nuts - in German

Actually, while I was looking for examples, I came across this website with some funny ones. I particularly like the veterinary tablets for someone’s dog, with the warning of drowsiness, and not to drink alcohol or operate heavy machinery after taking them. It’s obvious that they’re mostly American – we aren’t that bad. At least, I didn’t think so until today.

I’ve joked with my local Chinese takeaway before about how their menu warns that Chicken with Cashew Nuts “may contain traces of nuts”. And it is on the subject of nuts – peanuts in fact – that an alert appeared in my inbox today.

The Food Standards Agency announced that Lidl is recalling its Alesto brand of Honey Peanuts because peanuts are not mentioned in English on the packaging. I didn’t realise things had gotten so bad. I mean, Lidl is a German company and much of what it sells comes from non-UK sources. I thought everyone was aware of that. But going a step further, what on earth would someone with a life-threatening food allergy be doing buying something to eat without knowing what was in it? Come on. We’re talking about peanuts here – or “erdnüsse” – the number one killer of humans in the UK, if you believe the media on these things.

And as if this wasn’t bad enough, another warning came through advising that Lidl is recalling its Milbona brand of Fruit Yoghurt due to – wait for it – the presence of undeclared milk! Where the hell do people think yoghurt comes from? Bees?

Food manufacturers are living a nightmare if the number of FSA alerts I see is anything to go by. Not a day passes without recalls due to undeclared milk, eggs, soya, sesame, mustard, wheat, gluten, and so on. Asda even had to do a recall a couple of weeks ago to milk “as an allergen” being incorrectly worded – I’d have though that someone who was likely to explode if they consumed milk would be aware that the word they were looking for on the label was “milk”. But it seems that manufacturers have to provide an encyclopaedic description these days, or face an expensive recall.

Still, I suppose this Lidl thing is all leading nicely toward Brexit and the New British Nationalism (if it ever happens, and let’s hope it doesn’t).

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Anyone who makes their own curry needs to be aware of this. TRS is recalling certain packs of its Cumin and Coriander powders because they contain salmonella. Batches affected:

TRS Jeera (Cumin) Powder
Pack size:  100g
Batch no: P353340
‘Best before’ date:  31 December 2017

TRS Dhania (Coriander) Powder
Pack size:  100g
Batch no: A481514
‘Best before’ end:  End December 2017

No other TRS products, packs, or batches are involved. You should not eat any affected pack, and return it to the store you purchased it from and get a refund.

TRS is a well-known brand and is one of the main suppliers of whole and ground spices in most specialty stores and even mainstream supermarkets.


There’s an update to this, with a new alert from the Food Standards Agency. A further batch of Cumin (Jeera) is involved, and TRS has now added a batch of Chilli Powder (Extra Hot):

TRS Ground Cumin (Jeera) Powder
Pack size:  100g
Batch no: P200116
‘Best before’ date:  30 June 2017

​​TRS Chilli Powder (Extra Hot)
Pack size:  400g
Batch no: P160303
‘Best before’ date:  31 March 2018

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I was doing a bit of online research for some recipes for a slow cooker I just purchased. One recipe called for coconut milk, and I noticed one of the comments underneath:

I forgot coconut milk, will it still work with passata?? HELP PLS

This is what coconut milk looks like compared to passata. In case anyone is wondering, coconut milk is the one on the left.Coconut Milk vs Passata

Furthermore, coconut milk tends to come from something called a “coconut”, like this.A coconut

Passata, on the other hand, is commonly made from things called “tomatoes”, which look like this.Tomatoes

This gives rise to a distinct difference in the colour region when you compare coconut milk alongside passata. There are also a few notable differences between the plants which produce them. Coconut Palm vs Tomato Vine

Coconuts grow somewhere between 15 and 30 metres in the air at the top of palm trees in various tropical and subtropical locations around the world (if you’re still stuck, coconut palms are the ones on the left). Each coconut – once it is removed from its tough outer casing – is hard and woody, and weighs nearly 1.5kg, and each palm can produce fruit for 70 years or more. On the other hand, tomatoes grow pretty much anywhere you want them on bushes usually no more than about 1-2 metres off the ground. A tomato plant can live for a few years, though they’re mostly treated as annuals and new ones planted each year. A typical tomato is soft and squishy and weighs in at around 100 grams. Every 100 grams of coconut contains about 6g of sugar and over 30 grams of fat, compared with about 2.5 grams of sugar and virtually no fat in the same amount of tomato. There are a lot of other nutritional differences.

I wonder if the person who asked that question ever tried the recipe using passata instead of coconut milk?

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