Tag Archives: food

Avoiding fake hygiene ratings for a tummy-friendly Christmas

I can’t believe that nearly half of the UK general public (41% to be exact) never check food hygiene ratings for restaurants they’re about to visit.

On the one hand, I can see their scepticism about checking. Last year, the FSA warned many businesses about displaying fake ratings on their windows rather than the real McCoy, threatening prosecution. In the UK, businesses don’t have to display the hygiene rating sticker, but it’s becoming so commonplace around the country that windows without any stickers look ominously out of place. Some morally suspect restauranteurs have taken it upon themselves to manufacture a good rating, despite the possible health risks involved. (I can’t help but think it’s less much effort to simply clean your kitchen and practise good food preparation techniques.)

So, ahead of Christmas 2014, the Food Standards Agency is calling on people to check the food hygiene ratings of restaurants before booking Christmas meals, and this is better achieved by using the official app (which you can’t cheat).

So anyway, those statistics … Half of the UK don’t check ratings. Aaargh! It’s not worth the risk! And this is despite 39% of people reporting that they had a bad experience when eating out, and suspecting they contracted food poisoning from a restaurant or takeaway. In other words, you’ve already been burned and you still take the risk.

“The people we spoke to through our poll spend a lot of time and effort planning festive meals to make sure their family and friends have a good time, yet very few make food hygiene a priority,” said Catriona Stewart from the FSA. “It’s quick and easy to check a restaurant’s food hygiene rating online. Just go to the FSA website (www.food.gov.uk/ratings).

“Most restaurants have a rating of 3 or above,” said environmental health officer Emma Richbell. “However, as an inspector, I often think consumers would be surprised at which restaurants fall short of good practice. I’d urge everybody to look at the official food hygiene rating, rather than chance it by choosing a place they think will be OK.”

Don’t take chances. If, like me, you love Christmas and want it to pass without any great mischief to your insides, download the app and have a very happy one. In fact, use Foursquare or Yelp and share the good vibes with everybody else!


A peek at Glanbia’s new mill for OatPure gluten-free oats

I’ve spent the day in Ireland with ingredient innovator Glanbia Nutritionals, which announced a big breakthrough in gluten-free purity with the launch of OatPure gluten-free oats.

Certified at max 10 parts perm (ppm) gluten to exceed industry standards, OatPure oats are developed at Glanbia’s new state-of-the-art food grade milling facility in Portlaoise, guaranteeing gluten-free oat traceability and purity.

The day started with a minibus journey to Glanbia’s new state-of-the-art food grade milling facility in Portlaoise. This is a well-known company in the dairy sector, but has specialised in next-generation grains since 2007. Its business evolution has happened over a long period of time, as the company patiently took on new grain endeavours.

Today’s news about the gluten-free oats makes sense, and I can vouch for the impressive new oat mill, which may take this €3.3bn revenue company into new sectors, expanding its reach beyond the 19 countries in which it already does business.

Of course, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the machinery, but I was allowed full access to each stage of the processing on a guided tour by Larry McDonald, head of quality at Glanbia Agrifood. Thanks to Glanbia’s full ownership of the NSF-certified closed loop supply chain process, the plant is unique in processing only oat ingredients to guarantee a certified gluten-free product. The oat processing facility operates to Grade A BRC accreditation and the raw material supply chain is further independently certified.

David the farmer

Glanbia’s agronomists work closely with a team of 20 Glanbia cooperative farmers to initiate the controlled process at seed selection stage, using dedicated gluten-free equipment throughout the protected supply chain system. I met one of these farmers, David Walsh-Kennis, who walked me around his large farm and shared his thoughts about crop rotation, costs and the benefits of growing oats for the gluten-free market.

Once his GPS-monitored land is prepared for planting, the Glanbia team supervises the specialist crop from planting through to sampling and storage to ensure full seed traceability. The oats are examined at all growth stages to optimise rotation, minimise the risk of cross-contamination and ensure the highest quality of pure oats for harvest.

At the milling facility, trained personnel implement an audited labelling and tracking process with guaranteed gluten-free equipment to deliver a fully traceable end product. During processing, the OatPure gluten-free oats are heat-treated for optimum food safety and stability, before being dried, stored and milled in dedicated gluten-free facilities.

The company says the OatPure gluten-free oats are ideal for bread, cookies, granola bars and on-the-go nutrition. By offering beneficial properties such as fibre, protein and ALA omega-3s, OatPure gluten-free oats can enhance the texture and health profile of these products.

“The gluten-free market is expanding rapidly and, as such, offers great potential, as we see consumers opting for gluten-free choices in pursuit of a healthy diet,” said Carla Clissmann, EMEA regional director at Glanbia Nutritionals. “We believe our OatPure gluten-free oats are the purest on the market today, which is testament to our commitment to research and setting the highest standard in regulatory compliance.”

Glanbia’s OatPure gluten-free oats will be available to customers in Europe from November 2014. I’ll be taking a look around the company’s Innovation Centre tomorrow, so will hopefully have some photos to share with you.

Should we trust someone who doesn’t eat cake?

According to a new survey (this time, not about the prospect of independence for Scotland), the UK is at its happiest when it’s eating a slice of sponge cake at teatime.

The survey, commissioned by British Baker magazine, also reveals that nearly 80% of us treat ourselves at least three times a week. This is interesting news, as I’m a self-confessed cake fiend; I love it, especially moist, delicious carrot cake. And even though the survey is to mark National Cupcake Week (15-21 September 2014), I confess to only indulging in cupcakes now and again, as I haven’t had one yet that’s Earth-shatteringly exciting.

According to the poll, more than 40% of us are now baking our own cakes at home, which is no surprise thanks to the phenomenal success of the BBC series Great British Bake Off. I think a lot of it was confidence; we simply didn’t think we could muster enough sugary, buttery spirit to knock up a Victoria Sponge we could be proud of. Alas, we can, and mine has cream in it, unlike Mary Berry’s.

The nation also likes sponge, which apparently wins hands down over fruit cake (what, even at Christmas?).

So, what else did the survey reveal? Are we gluttons for chocolate? Do we lick half of the mixture off the spoon before we’ve even baked it? Do we feel guilty about eating cake?

Hundreds of people took a ‘cake happiness test’ devised by British Baker magazine, to gauge current cake tastes, preferences and to find out if cake lovers experience a sense of guilt. The answer was no.

  • 92% of us would describe ourselves as cake lovers.
  • More than 86% of us say cake makes us feel happy.
  • More than 38% of us say cake is a guilty pleasure, yet 36% disagree!
  • 39.33% of us eat cake 2-3 times a week.
  • 40% of us eat cake once a week.
  • 41% reckon they never buy cake (because nearly 50% us are baking at home 2-3 times a week).
  • 46% of us eat cake at teatime, which is the UK’s favourite cake time of the day.
  • 47.2% of us prefer sponge.
  • 26.95% are fruit cake lovers.
  • 53.90% say they prefer cupcakes.
  • Chocolate is the nation’s favourite cupcake flavour (25.71%), followed by lemon (20%), vanilla (19.29%), Red Velvet (11.43%) and carrot (10%).

The most telling survey statistic of all is this: Not a single respondent said that they never eat cake. I conclude that you should never trust someone who doesn’t eat cake. They’re not like the rest of us.

A trip down Memory Lane courtesy of Jacob’s in Aintree

I’m feeling nostalgic today, as I just read that United Biscuits is celebrating 100 years at its Jacob’s factory in Aintree, Merseyside.

I was a schoolboy when I visited this factory in the 1980s, and I remember walking around the factory floor with my classmates soaking up the noise of the machinery as it created all sorts of colourful snacks. It was as close to being in Willy Wonka’s factory we would ever get, and it felt amazing.

The site was the first Jacob’s factory in England, built as the Jacob’s brand expanded on its Irish roots, and remains the primary producer of Jacob’s products in the UK, including Cream Crackers and Twiglets.

Yes, it’s the home of the Cream Cracker, but it’s also integral to the development and expansion of many Jacob’s products, including the Biscuits For Cheese selections and Oddities.

However, I don’t remember seeing crackers. I remember marshmallow, which we were allowed to taste straight off the line. It hadn’t dried and toughened yet, so was smooth and easy to lick straight off the biscuit. What a day!

Flour Blending at Jacob's in 1926.
Flour Blending at Jacob’s in 1926.

What I didn’t know at the time was how long the site had been producing food, so to read that it opened in 1914 just blows my mind. It’s not just a product of my own childhood, it’s a product of many childhoods, and I can only imagine all of the happy, young faces that have passed through its gates over the years.

“Our Aintree factory has played a crucial role in the success of Jacob’s, and the broader business of United Biscuits,” said Kevin McGurk, group supply chain director at United Biscuits. “It is the home of Jacob’s, and with around half of all British households buying Jacob’s crackers, it has national as well as local significance.

“As a local manufacturer, we think it’s important to give something back to the community, which is why we play an active role with local primary and secondary schools and support the Aintree Fair Share scheme.”

It’s great that a new generation of schoolchildren is able to enjoy what I enjoyed when I was a nipper. I left with a small, yellow tin full of Club and United biscuits. I wonder what they leave with these days?

A fennel-flavoured Speciality Fine Food Fair

I was looking forward to the Speciality & Fine Food Fair at Olympia in London this week, but didn’t expect to be so rushed off my feet! I met so many lovely people, small and large producers, and tasted some interesting products.

Among these was a popcorn by Ten Acre, a company usually known for its crisps. This popcorn was fennel and lemon flavoured, which took me right back to an Italian restaurant in New York and the amazing sausage I quite regularly enjoy when I go there. It was a fantastic flavour experience, void of any chemical aftertaste and overbearing personality. I loved it and only regret not taking a bag home.

I’ll post an interview with the charismatic CEO of Ten Acre, Tony Goodman, as soon as I get around to it. In the meantime, here are a couple of interviews I did in other parts of the great hall, such as Roy and Usha Verman from Dhaniya:

I also had a chat with Simon Bell from Donatantonio, who was launching 16 products in the Lupetta range of Italian ingredients.

I didn’t want to miss out on the Chocolate Fair, so wandered around taking photos and meeting lots of confectionery entrepreneurs, and even managed to catch the giant chocolate saxophone. Jean-Marie Dessard and Philippe Wall were responsible for bringing the 10ft tall chocolate saxophone to launch the exhibition, and it really is quite eye-catching.

It was nice to catch up with Jim Cregan from Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, whose beard was looking rather fine (as usual). He told me that there’s a new product on the way in the not-too-distant future, and I have no doubt that he’ll come up with a fun way to promote it. If you haven’t seen any of Jim’s videos yet, start here:

Finally (for now), here are a few photos from the event, with some from my colleague Claire Phoenix. The show’s organiser tells me that there have been a record number of exhibitor re-bookings for the 2015 Fair, which just goes to show how popular, vibrant and important this show is.

Preparing for the 15th Speciality & Fine Food Fair in London

I’m at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in London next Tuesday, so I’m getting my batteries and memory cards together and hope to see and talk to lots of you.

Believe it or not, this is the 15th edition of the show, and incorporates the Speciality Chocolate Fair as well as the two main theatres, Fine Food Forum and Speciality Chocolate Live. At the start of July 2014, I read that exhibitor space had already sold out, so more space was released to accommodate demand. This will see producer numbers exceed 650.

It’s a great opportunity to network with people in artisan food and confectionery, who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. As well as the industry ‘giants’, I’m looking forward to meeting many small producers and those who are just starting out. The last time I was here was 2010, so I think I have a bit of catching up to do with some old favourites and those who have grown their business over the last four or five years.

There will also be ample opportunity to sample some new and interesting food and drink products, and the Trussell Trust is making sure that food wastage from the three-day event is put to good use. The charity will be running a food collection service during the Fair and any leftover goodies will be sent to food banks close to Olympia Grand.

I’ll be catching up with Donatantonio and Olives Et Al, as well as a host of others, discovering new innovations in food and packaging. If you fancy a chat while I’m there, drop me a line and we can arrange to meet up.

On the day, I’ll be using the Speciality & Fine Food Fair hashtag of #SCF14 and will be tweeting from @ShaunFoodBev. Hope to see you there!

Mining social media to understand what we think about food and drink

The horse meat scandal just won’t go away, which is probably a good thing. At the beginning of last year, it was headline news for good reason, but why are we still talking about it 18 months on?

The reason is simple: we need to ensure it doesn’t happen again. As I said in an earlier blog, the crime in this case was that a nation that does consider the eating of horse meat as taboo was deceived.

What disturbed me most wasn’t the fact that we may have been eating horse meat all along, but the fact that no one told me. I’d like to have a choice over what I eat, so being honest and open about ingredients is top of my list. However, it’s only my opinion. In order to discover what everyone else thought about the horse meat scandal, researchers at Cardiff University have been busy looking at social media engagement from when the news first broke.

By analysing social media data, the researchers will discover public perceptions of the horse meat scandal for the first time, tapping into a rich vein of media coverage that revealed widespread fraud and uncovered the complexity of the UK meat supply chain and the extent of meat imports.

The project will investigate how the growing complexity of international food supply chains is giving rise to a new generation of risks and concerns.

It’s a massive undertaking, but an important one that may change the way we use social media for marketing purposes in all sorts of sectors, whether we’re mining it for positive change or for being able to sell a product in two years’ time.

The University’s Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (Cosmos, of course) has been awarded an Economic and Social Research Council grant under its Global Food Security Programme (a joint initiative with the Food Standards Agency). The project is in collaboration with NatCen, the University of Warwick and the University of Westminster.

“Cosmos provides a unique opportunity to study the story arc of crises in unprecedented detail,” said computer scientist Dr Pete Burnap. “We have collected data from public Twitter accounts since 2012 and our database of more than three billion tweets will allow us to trace the unfolding of the horse meat scandal, pinpointing moments of escalation, de-escalation and duration.

“We can also mine the data to discover variation in levels of public sentiment and tension around the topic, as well as identify demographic characteristics of those involved and the geographic spread of the scare.

“This study will enhance understanding of the potential of social media analysis to access public perceptions and how these evolve, and to establish how social media analysis can be used in risk governance and engagement with the public about risks more generally.”

I can’t help but imagine a future of such detailed research being undertaken by the food & drink Goliaths of our day. Scratch that; they’re probably already doing it – mining our tweets and posts about flavours, regional trends and packaging choices. It’s not a bad thing. If they have the money to do it, it cascades down to those who can’t afford to do the research, which leads to more innovation and competition.

As Dr Luke Sloan from the Cardiff School of Social Sciences says, “The research will generate new empirical findings on public perceptions of UK food supply chains; what people’s concerns are, what influences these and how they may be best managed in the future.”

If the NSA can mine our data, so can we.

(My thanks to Fil Dunsky for the brilliant illustration used in this article.)