Thursday 15 December 2016

Parts per millicentimartin

The bold Dau.I is back from her sojourn in Egypt England and we've been catching up . . . about each other but also about what's been going down in the social media. The Blob is my, almost entirely one-way, contribution to this vast consumer of electricity; so I'm not really up to date on all those celebrity scandals, hilarious kitten videos and viral memes. As an ex-pat, she's spent at least as much time as me tuning in to what's happening in Ireland. We were comparing notes about food content and food labelling - about which I have something of an interest.

Someone told me the other week that grated cheese is quite a bit less than 100% cheese. The idea of buying pre-grated cheese as a 'convenience' really makes me chew my beard in frustration. How difficult is it to grate cheese ffs? When the kids were growing up, they would grate cheese unto and into a whole lot of dishes and never sustained injury or 'lost' more than 7 seconds per meal. That's 7 seconds per family not per person! Grating the goddam cheese in a factory far far away is no advantage if the shreds are going to clag together again between factory and plate. Accordingly the food engineers dust each separate fragment with a talcum-powder-like mixture of cellulose and potato starch to prevent 'caking'. Although these additives typically are only 2% by weight, they will affect the cooking properties and mouth-feel of the product.  By massively increasing the surface area of the cheese, attack by moulds is much more likely and you really shouldn't leave an open half-used bagful about, even in the fridge.  Unless, like me, you're okay with a dash of blue in your food. Dau.I has been working for the last several months as a dinner-lady in an English school. They grated cheese almost every day for up to 200 kids and attendant adults . . . using a Magimix food processor with a grater attachment frrrpp - a kilo - frrrpp - another.  Doing it by hand as she used to aged 5, doesn't scale up.  Dau.II, otoh, working in a Burrito bar says that they buy their chopped onions every day in a big bags because it's just not cost-effective to do it by knife.

Additives on the food morphed into the Tayto gluten scandal of November this year.  A lady in Wicklow bought her coeliac kids a bag of gluten-free O'Donnell's crisps which triggered a reaction. Surely all potato crisps are gluten-free???  In the early 1990s when I used to cycle into work, I was much distracted by a clever-clogs advertising campaign which billed oats Avena sativa as a fat-free food. Well duh, of course it's fat free. You might almost as well try selling bottled water as fat-free. But modern crisps are a long way from thin slices of spud fried in oil and salted. They are now sprayed by the food engineers with a villainous concoction of 'flavorings' to match the nonsense the marketing department is writing on the packaging. And apparently a lot of these additives use wheat-flour as a distribution vehicle. It turns out that O'Donnell's is now owned by Tayto, Ireland's Original, but Tayto is owned by Largo. If you go high enough up the chain everything is owned by General Foods or General Motors.  Inevitably this led to a long to-fro, occasionally pretty funny, on Reddit.

Anyway, it seems that there was a cock-up in the production line at Largo/Tayto and 'normal' crisps with more than 20 parts per million ppm found there way into the gluten-free bags. The Indo's reporter got way out of his depth in the science and invented a new nonsensical measure called a ppmg. This is stupidly conflating two things which mean the same thing 1)  ppm and 2) mg/kg or mg/litre. mg per kg is readily understandable because the units top/bottom are the same. parts/mg is about as meaningful as pants/kg. That's a problem because if you can't report the facts correctly, (because the journo, the copy-editor and the Editor are all ignorant of science) then it casts doubt on everything else you and your paper put into print.  It's as if you compared the economic power of two rival nations in units of shirt-buttons.


  1. Tut! Bob, living in Ireland as you are, are you not aware of the film "War of the Buttons" (1994)? Where the inter-tribal specie is - buttons.

    1. Thanks Conrad, this is why I Blob: to act as a dream-catcher for all the cultural stuff that I missed. I certainly shd have seen that film because we lived in Dublin in the mid90s and did go to the cinema then, there. I'll see if I can't pick up the thread somewhere . . . like Amazon.