VISION – Have you heard about our Virtual Interactive Food Hall?

 

VISION is an interactive online shopping game & information tool based around a food hall and devised by the Service to help educate consumers on how to go about eating a balanced diet and essentially enable people to make more informed decisions about the food they eat.  When logging onto the site you will be invited to either explore the food hall at your leisure or take up ‘Are you Balanced?’ challenge.

The hall contains over 130 different foods each with their own ‘food label’ containing:

1) Generic information about fat, salt and sugar levels as represented by the Food Standards Agency traffic light system
2) The category each food falls into as dictated by the Food Standards Agency Eatwell plate
3) Interesting scripted nutritional and did you know facts

The challenge is based on the Food Standards Agency ‘eatwell plate’ and the user is asked to select 15 items of food to cover a day’s supply of meals, so breakfast, lunch and evening meal. Once the selections have been made, each item is scored and assessed against the eatwell plate at the checkout stage and the user is told how ‘balanced’ they are.  A receipt can be printed off at this stage and the user (depending on how well they have done) will either have the option of entering their name on a ‘high scores board’ or have the option to try again.  It is important to emphasise that the idea is not to create winners or losers, but get people thinking more about eating a balanced diet.

To complement the food hall we now have podcasts,  a game and food related quiz that tests amongst other things what has been learnt during a visit to the hall.  Indeed VISION now has the potential to provide a useful online educational tool for all who use it, especially secondary schools and adult education training programmes up and down the country.  

If you would like to comment on the site or think that you might be able to use the site for educational purposes, please get in touch with Heather Woodward on (01452) 426219 or email heather.woodward@glouucestershire.gov.uk .  VISION can be found at www.visionfoodhall.com, or accessed via the Gloucestershire Trading Standards website.

Eat more fish

It is recommended by the Food Standards Agency that we eat at least two portions of fish a week including one of oily fish. Fish and shellfish are good sources of protein, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and oily fish is particularly rich in omega 3 fatty acids.  

What is classed as oily fish?  
Fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring fall under this category and are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which has been linked to improving a persons ability to concentrate.  Oily fish is also a great source of vitamins A and D, the latter being essential for calcium absorption.   

What is classed as white fish?
White fish includes haddock, plaice, pollack, coley and cod and is generally very low in fat and very easy for the body to digest.  White fish does contain some omega 3 fatty acids but not so much as oily fish.  So, white fish is  a healthier low-fat alternative to red meat.  100g of haddock, for instance, contains less than 1g of fat. Lower in fat also means lower in calories.
 
What about shellfish?
Prawns, mussels, oysters, crab and squid fall into this catergory.  Shellfish are very low in fat, are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, iodine and copper.  
For some top tips on how to cook your fish go for steamed, baked or grilled fish or shellfish, rather than fried. This is because frying makes fish and shellfish much higher in fat, especially if they’re cooked in batter.

 If you are concerned with conservation issue, here are some top tips from the FSA to be aware of:  
• Buy a variety of fish to take the pressure off a select few
• Try and buy locally caught fish
• Try to find out how your fish was caught by asking retailers to supply information.
• If you are buying farmed fish, opt for those which have been farmed in open sea conditions. Avoid fish that rely on large supplies of wild-caught fish as feed (again, ask your supplier)
•  Keep asking questions of retailers. Consumer concerns eventually translate into supplier action

For vegetarians, it is worth noting that advice about eating oily fish is aimed at preventing heart disease. According to the vegetarian society, a vegetarian diet should already give you a head start in preventing this ailment.  Good sources of omega 3 oils can be found for the vegetarian diet, for example, flaxseed oil, hulled hemp seeds, rapeseed oil and walnuts all offer a source of omega 3. Again the vegetarian society suggests that a tablespoon of flaxseed oil a day would be a sufficient supply of omega 3.

Here at Gloucestershire Trading Standards we carry out tests each year to make sure you are getting what you pay for.  Some unscrupulous traders have been known to deceive the general public by trying to pass off an inferior type of fish for halibut or something similar which is obviously more costly.  Analysis will quickly show up one species of a fish from another.  If you have any concerns or would like to comment on any aspect of this post, please get in touch now on (01452) 426219.

Fairtrade Fortnight

This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight runs from 22nd February – 7th March 2010.

The Fairtrade Foundation is the independent non-profit organisation that licenses use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products in the UK in accordance with internationally agreed Fairtrade standards.   Fairtrade Fortnight is an annual event which aims to encourage people to make a difference to the lives of producers in the developing world by choosing fair trade.

Essentially, it’s about giving a fair deal to the people who produce our food in some of the world’s poorest countries. Fair-trading schemes usually aim to pay a premium over the market rate for goods. This ensures that workers get a fair wage and are treated well, and that communities in poor countries can use profits to invest in their future.
This year the Fairtrade Foundation are asking consumers to join in on the “The Big Swap”. For two whole weeks consumers will be asked to swop their usual stuff for Fairtrade stuff.  So your usual bananas for Fairtrade bananas, your usual red wine for a fair-trade option and your usual cuppa for a Fairtrade cuppa.  It is hoped that every swop will prove that the people of the UK want producers in the developing world to get a fairer deal.

The foundation think this is a brilliantly small step to making the world a fairer place meaning all can show their support for developing world producers through what you buy. Two billion people – a third of humanity – survive on less than $2 a day. Unfair trade rules keep them in poverty, but they face the global challenges of food shortages and climate change too.

The Fairtrade foundation strongly believes that developing world producers should be in control of their own lives by simply getting a better deal for the work that they do. 

To quote the BBC Food website:  “There are sceptics who regard fair trade as unfair interference that encourages overproduction of certain crops and makes farmers dependent on handouts.” 

Now it’s over to you…

So, a few questions for you to spark some debate today:

  • Do you think fair trade products taste better than organic or local or food sourced from elsewhere?
  • If it isn’t about taste, is it a product only purchased for the ethical reasons? If that is the case is it truly sustainable as a concept?
  • Do you trust it? Who enforces such a standard when it is applied on such a grand scale?
  • Have you ever wondered whether your money really makes it to the person who needs it the most?

New Year – New Diet?

Amanda Glos writes…

As the New Year opens up in front of us, it is a time many of us embark on a pledge to a healthier diet regime, but please STOP, LOOK & READ the labelling of the food you are eating and don’t get fooled like me.

Let me explain. As a treat I bought myself some Medjool dates. Something that I thought was pretty healthy, as they are just dried fruit. As soon as I got home I decided to tuck into one. It tasted so wonderful I thought I would have just one more. It was at this point my eye caught a logo on the pack “1 of 5 a day = 4 dates”. So whilst munching through my second date I thought I would be very virtuous and eat 4 dates. I thought at least I could knock off one of my five a day fruit and veg. Feeling very pleased with myself I started eating the third date. It was at this point that I started feeling decidedly sick, and unable to eat anymore. Returning to the packaging for some clue or other, the answer was there, right along-side the logo “1 of 5 a day= 4 dates”! If I had eaten the 4 dates I would have consumed almost 60% of my sugar for the day!

I felt that the “marketing men” had got to me and I had been taken in by them. All the information I needed to make an informed choice was on the label, and in this case side by side on the front of the pack. My eye had been drawn to part of it and I didn’t bother to read any further. So please, STOP, take a closer LOOK, and READ the whole label so that you can make a balanced approach to your food.

For more information on food labelling go to the Vision virtual food hall.

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…