Most, if not all food businesses in the U.K. have to use a system known as HACCP to monitor and control the processes within their business. This catchy acronym stands for Hazard Critical Control Points. It is a system put in place a few years ago in an attempt to ‘idiot proof’ the risk aspect of food production. The HACCP system was derived from procedures set out by NASA for space missions. Despite this slightly obscure link with the U.S. space programme, the system has done a fair bit of good, even if it is very open to variations in how it is administered.
As we seem always to follow the U.S. in all things, I was surprised to learn recently that while America’s astronauts follow a HACCP system, their food businesses do not. The announcement that it will soon be introduced has given rise to fear that many small food businesses may not be able to cope with the added layer of bureaucracy.
Partaking in an intercontinental dialogue on the subject (the joys of Twitter!), I was drawn to a link to an article in the NEW York Times from late last year which looked at how a single beef burger was made and from where its ingredients came. It so happened that the particular burger in question had resulted in the paralysis of the person who had eaten it having reacting very badly indeed to the presence of E Coli 167.
The journey undertaken by the ingredients, the way in which they had been produced and processed, really were frightening. Most frightening of all, though, was the sheer scale of the processes involved. This scale is accompanied by a constant pressure in terms of efficiency and the time allowed. This pressure is often such that workers are allowed no time even to clean their equipment, increasing the risk of serious, life-threatening contamination.
One of the sources of this contamination risk is the intensive finishing of cattle in so-called lots. Cattle, mainly young bulls, are gathered in tightly packed open yards and fed ad-lib grain to finish them as quickly as possible. This farming method supplies much of the main-stream demand for beef in the U.S. One of the reactions against this has been the rise of demand for grass finished U.S. beef which seems to remain something of a novelty over there. In the constant battle for price, though, the sourcing of this higher quality beef has moved to an increase in imports from South America. As the demand for South American beef has increased, so the South American producers have increased the number of animals they finish in cattle lots and reduced the herds finished on grass.
Great, grass fed beef is still abundantly available throughout the United Kingdom, but will only remain so as long as the demand for cheap burgers made from multi sourced ingredients, often scraped by high pressure hoses off the carcase, is held at bay.
Sunday May 23rd The Northfield Classic car meet
Sunday June 14th Open Farm Sunday