Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thought for food

Remember how, last year, there was a spate of horror stories about how products made in China weren't necessarily, let's say, up to code with all those pesky rules and regulations that we cossetted Westerners insist on? Things like products not containing more than a limited amount of lethal poison.

I thought then, and I still think, that this ruckus was thinly-disguised protectionism. When I was a kid, I had a number of toys made of lead. It's an excellent material - cheap, easy to mould, satisfyingly heavy and durable. To say nothing of the paints, which (we took it for granted) would contain lead, if nothing worse. I assume that's why my parents kept shouting at me when I ate it.

Which is why, this Easter, my reaction to stories of nasty egg-related experiences was more smugness than horror. Summary: some Easter chocolate products have been found to contain creepy-crawlies.

We're talking respected brands here. Cadbury's and M&Ms are the two that have failed to keep their names out of the story - I don't know what others may be involved. Nor do I know where these products were made. But I'd bet good money it's not China.

This is not what I call consumer protection. When you bit into your Easter egg, did you think "what this really needs is something living inside it"?

Of course it could be that someone is simply taking the symbolic significance of the Easter egg a bit too literally. But more likely, they're just careless.

Food handling is a curious blind spot in the factories and supermarkets of New Zealand. We are resigned to carefully sorting through the mildewed, crushed and parasite-infested fruit; cautiously wiping the leaking blood off badly packaged meats; gently testing the temperature of milk by hand; glumly inspecting the mold on the inside of vacuum packs of cheddar; religiously checking the dates on short-life products such as coleslaw and dips. I've seen shelf stackers in the supermarkets piling crates on top of soft fruit without a thought. If I saw any of this in Tesco's in England, I would expect the section manager to be sacked on the spot; here, it never occurs to anyone that there is even an issue.

Don't get me wrong: our food is excellent. New Zealand is justly famed for its farming. Our restaurants compare well with any of the 15 or so countries I've experienced. We had roast lamb for an Easter feast - finest New Zealand-grown baby sheep - and I can officially pronounce it delicious. And the wine! - New Zealand wine, as anyone who's been paying even the slightest attention must know by now, is the best in the world. Even Foodtown can't screw that up.

It's not that hard, people. This is 2009: problems like this were already boring in the 1980s, when I studied production engineering. If you can't do it, resign, and give your job to someone who gives a damn'.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's good money in analysing situations, and offering yourself as a consultant who (for a modest sum) will fix the problem.