What’s really on your Christmas menu?

 
With the festive season upon us many of us are already eyeing up the Christmas menus in anticipation – but how much is your choice influenced by descriptions that may not be all they seem?

The No Nonsense Christmas Menu

STARTERS
Organic Broccoli and Stilton Soup
There are detailed standards which must be adhered before the description ‘organic’ can be applied. The name ‘Stilton’ has legal protection so its use is restricted to specific cheese.
Homemade Chicken Liver Pate
The term ‘homemade’ can only be used for products made at home, or made in a way that reflects a typical domestic kitchen, such as a pub kitchen.
Traditional Fishcake
The term ‘traditional’ can only be used to describe a product that has existed for around 25 years.  The ingredients and process used to make the product should have been available, substantially unchanged, for that same period.

MAINS
Sausages and Free Range Eggs
A ‘sausage’ only contains a minimum of 32% pork, compared to at least 42%
 pork if it is called ‘pork sausage’.  Poultry and rabbit sausage only need to contain 26% meat and for all others, including beef, the minimum is 30%.
Eggs described as ‘free range’ must be produced in poultry establishments, which meet standards such as continuous daytime access for hens to open air runs, access to ground mainly covered with vegetations and at least four square metres of ground per bird.
Norfolk Turkey Roll with Seasonal Vegetables
The turkey could be from anywhere as long as it was last underwent a substantial change, in this case rolled, in Norfolk. Slicing, cutting, mincing and/or packing of meat would not amount to the ‘substantial change’ required by law, so a Norfolk turkey breast would have to be from Norfolk.
Using the term ‘seasonal’ could be misleading if it is applied to imported produce, or produce that has been grown in heated greenhouses outside of its natural season
Fresh Pasta with Wild Mushroom Sauce
The description ‘fresh’ must not be used where ingredients have been tinned, frozen or dried. There is no legal definition of ‘wild’ but action could still be taken if a trading standards officer believed this to be misleading, and that the product had in fact been farmed

DESSERT  
Auntie Annie’s British Christmas Pudding
When using a name this should not lead to the product easily being mistaken for another, similar product, a practice called ‘passing off’.  It also must not already be a registered trademark.
‘British’ does not mean that the ingredients must be British – it may just mean the product has been put together in Britain.
A Light Cheesecake with Exotic Fruit
The world ‘light’ may refer to the texture rather than the product being low in fat, SUGAR? or calories.  It is advisable to clarify the meaning so that it is not misleading.  If it is low in fat, sugar or calories it needs to be at least 30 per cent lower than the typical value to qualify as ‘light’.
 ‘Exotic’ fruit should be fruit that cannot be grown outside in the UK
Selection of Local Cheeses
There is no legal definition of the term ‘local’ but action can be taken by a trading standards officer if it is believed that the description is misleading.

How much did you know and how much did you learn? Many pubs and restaurants visited by trading standards officers across the country have been found to be using misleading menu descriptions. The reputable side of the business are getting increasingly frustrated that some are giving them a bad name.
 
But consumers can find out more for themselves, so we are hoping that by explaining some of the most common terms people will be able to make a more informed choice, ask the right questions and know exactly what they are ordering.
 
Are there any particular descriptions you have found misleading? Let us know.

A Load of Puff? – Mince Pies “Uncovered”

This month’s blog looks at one of the most popular festive foods – the mince pie.

Shops in Gloucestershire have their shelves filled with these, but how can you make sure Father Christmas doesn’t end up re-visiting you after Christmas, grumpily asking what happened to the amount of filling in the pies you left out for him?

The answer can be found by checking the label!

The law requires that most pre-packed foods which are made up of more than one ingredient have to declare the quantity of a particular ingredient when it:

  • appears in the name of the food (or is usually associated with that food),
  • is emphasised in words, pictures or graphics, or
  • is essential to characterise the food

The amount of mincemeat in mince pies therefore needs to be declared. This should appear as a percentage (%) and it usually appears in the ingredients list. It can also appear either in (or next to) the name of the food.

So if you like your mince pies well filled, you can find out exactly how much you will be getting by checking the label. We found that the amount of mincemeat in pies can vary from between 53% for ‘premium brand’ pies to just 30% in ‘economy brand’ pies!

This information is called a Quantitative Ingredient Declaration or ‘QUID’. It is there so that consumers can easily compare similar foods against each other and so help them make a decision about whether or not to buy.

Do you know how much meat is in your sausages? how much chicken is actually in your chicken-tikka masala meal? or how much fish is in your fisherman’s pie? The QUID declaration on the packaging should give the answer.

The next time you are out shopping, perhaps check the QUID declarations on some of the foods you buy, you might be quite surprised!

Contact us if you find something unexpected when looking at QUID declarations on food labels, let us know if you have any concerns.

Should we worry about ‘out of date’ food?

food-labelHow much do we really know and understand about the dates given on our foods that we buy from supermarkets, grocers, butchers and the like? Apparently not a lot if the high food poisoning figures for the population are looked at. Is this due to us not understanding the meaning of the dates or how to store foods or how long to keep them for?

There is much confusion over durability dates given on food, with newspapers and television programmes happily discussing ‘sell by’ dates. There is no such thing as a ‘sell by’ date any more. The two types of durability dates are the ‘use by’ date and the ‘best before’ date.

A use by date is given on foods ‘which from a microbiological point of view are highly perishable and in consequence likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health’. In other words, they need to be stored in the fridge, they are going to go off quickly and could possibly give you food poisoning if they are eaten after the use by date. They will be found for example on meat, fish, ready meals, dairy foods such as cream or soft cheeses, pre-packed salads, foods containing eggs, such as egg sandwiches, etc.

You should always keep foods with a use by date in the fridge, and eat it within that date. You should never take a risk of eating it after that date even if it smells OK, as you cannot tell from the smell or look of it whether it is harmful to you.

A best before date is used on foods which do not have to be stored in the fridge as they are not highly perishable, such as tinned and dried foods such as coffee or pasta, cakes, bread, cereals etc. These products can be kept on the shelf for long periods of time without ‘going off’, and even then the food is only likely to go stale or hard as with bread and cakes, and will very rarely cause any food poisoning.

In shops, a food which is past its use by date cannot be sold or even displayed for sale as this is an offence. It is the shop’s responsibility to check the dates in their fridges and remove any foods before they reach the end of their use by date.

A shop can still sell a food past its best before date, as long as its quality is still OK. The responsibility for the quality of the food sold past its best before date passes from the manufacturer to the retailer, so the seller must ensure they have stored foods correctly in the shop and have a good system of stock rotation.

We do hope this article helps explain the differences. Have you been ever confused by use by/best before dates? Do you think we throw away too much food that is fit to eat? Write in and tell us your experiences…

Hospital Food

Check out Cirencester Community Hospital and its brand new restaurant. They are serving some really tasty, freshly prepared food to staff, patients and visitors. Its an amazing new premises with a well motivated kitchen brigade… and it’s open to the public.

I always had a perception about hospital food but when I see the work at the production kitchen at Stroud Maternity, the kitchens at Cirencester Community Hospital and the Gloucester Royal I am often impressed. Good ingredients simply prepared in some of the cleanest conditions I have ever seen with well trained staff.

Maybe I have been lucky I don’t know – what are your experiences of Gloucestershire Hospital meals? Be great to hear the good news… and the bad (if there is any).

Rob Rees MBE is The Cotswold Chef™

Chocolate – Is It All Bad?

ChocolateFor Chocolate Week 2009 Rob Rees, the Cotswold Chef, tells us what he thinks:

I adore chocolate. My wife is making me give it up – in fact it’s been nearly 3 weeks now without it (although I have fallen off the wagon a couple of times for a Wispa Gold). Is it good or is it bad? The science seems to be mixed about chocolate. As a chef I know that in terms of taste there is a massive variety in terms of quality due to the mixture of fat versus bean. Chocolate Week is a real celebration of chocolate starting on 12th October. I may get permission to indulge in a bar or two – maybe some Divine Chocolate as I love it. What are your views on chocolate?

Rob Rees MBE is The Cotswold Chef™

The Danger of Internet Herbalists Who Claim to Treat Cancer

fennelOne of the greatest obstacles in dissuading consumers from purchasing their goods over the internet has been the risk that they might get ripped off. Yet an even bigger and growing risk is that they might purchase goods that are capable of harming them.

The regulation of herbal remedies sold over the internet has been of particular concern to Trading Standards Officers who are charged with ensuring that goods are safe to use and are not mis-described. In addition, Trading Standards are charged with enforcing the provisions of the Cancer Act that make it illegal to publish claims that goods, including food, can cure or treat cancer unless these goods are appropriately licensed medicines.

Herbal remedies are plants, or mixtures of plant extracts used to treat illness and promote health. People have used plants to treat illness for as long as history has been recorded. Some herbalists believe that their herbal remedies can prevent or cure certain illnesses yet there is no scientific evidence to prove that this is true for cancer.

There are two main branches of herbal remedies, Chinese and Western. Chinese herbalists use plants to improve what they believe is a persons ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’). Many Chinese believe that Qi is the flow of energy in our bodies and that maintaining the balance of Qi is essential for good health.

There has been a rise in the religious use of herbal preparations by pagans who use it both ritually for spell making and medicinally, offering mixtures to treat or cure various illnesses. There has also been a sharp rise in new age pagans offering their treatments over the internet. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and local authority Trading Standards Services are particularly concerned by this as many herbal remedies can have serious and dangerous side effects.

Gloucestershire Trading Standards Service has recently taken action against several internet traders making claims that their herbal remedies are a treatment or a cure for cancer. One internet trader was successfully prosecuted after persistently failing to act when warned about her web pages. There is a clear danger that some remedies offered for sale as a treatment for cancer could react or counteract with a patients existing prescriptions reducing their effect.

There is additional concern that people suffering from cancer, being at their most vulnerable, might assume that natural remedies are not proper drugs when in fact they are. It is vitally important that only qualified medical practitioners should offer advice about treating cancer.

Now it’s over to you. Do you have any thoughts on the content of this article? If so let us know…

A fish called Panga

fishchipsFish and chips!  One of the nation’s favourites, but some of us might be getting more than we bargained for when we order cod and chips!

The national press has recently revealed that some chip shop owners have been making a few extra quid by substituting traditional cod for a breed of catfish farmed in Vietnam. The name of the fish is Pangasius hypophthalmus, commonly known as Panga.

To look at the fish when battered and dripping in salt and vinegar, they look exactly the same, only when raw can the difference be spotted. Panga has a pinkish tinge to its white flesh, where cod is totally white. When cooked, neither has a strong taste and are difficult to distinguish. This is how the fraud is possible.

At wholesale markets Panga sells for half the price of cod but you and I as customers are being charged as though it was the same thing, leading to a tidy profit for the unscrupulous chip shop owner. There is no reason why Panga cannot be sold but it is imperative that it is described accurately and that customers get what they ask for at the counter.

Selling food which is not of the ‘nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser’ is a criminal offence and Trading Standards Officers work to eliminate these occurrences.

So what do you think?…

Would you be angry to find you’d been sold panga instead of cod?
When you order fish and chips do you expect the fish to be cod?
Have you ever tasted Panga?  Tell us your views…