Has Covid 19 transformed your attitude to food?
Are you more risk averse? Less? Or have you given up caring? As we approach a potential national lockdown (or is it just a parental style threat we wonder) I started thinking about how behaviours have changed regarding the things that we do actually have some control over. What do I mean? Well, let’s take food for example. A colleague said recently that when lockdown first happened, she stocked up with treats. ‘Well’ she told me, ‘I thought if this is it, I might as well go happy and stuffed with marshmallows!’ Last week I asked her how she’d got on. ‘’Not so good, now none of my trousers fit and I’m still here!’
Now is the time to take control over what we can control
Photo Kristen Kaethler
So, it appears as time passes, we are constantly reassessing our lives and even questioning what we thought were ingrained behaviours. ‘Shall I take a train? Should I commute to work? Should I book a flight? Should I make an appearance in the office?’ Then there are things like, ‘Should I change my diet, and should I try and help the planet recover by amending the demands I make upon it?’
We want to see an end to complex, chemical food additives and preservatives where possible
These are actually massive questions that are going to be dealt with by our children and grandchildren and yes, sometimes it all seems too overwhelming. Yet, individual actions do count, and the food industry is witnessing consumer attitude shifts already. According to Kerry, a taste and nutrition company, we are seeing people doing their best to eliminate ‘the unknown ingredients’ from things they buy, especially when it comes to meat. Apparently, many people are demanding ‘cleaner’ labels with much less on it. If we can’t spell or pronounce it, or haven’t heard of something, we are voting with our feet and finding a label that speaks to us of simple, clean ingredients.
Food safety is a bigger concern than it has ever been
Photo George Pagan III
Having seen how some viruses have the capacity to jump species many people, especially in the Middle East, Africa and the Asia Pacific region are very keen to see food safety at the top of the agenda. In fact, right across New Zealand, Thailand and Malaysia and beyond, food safety really is a priority.
Consumer demand is one thing, of course, but making massive changes is quite another
To start there is the issue of replacing artificial preservatives with cleaner alternatives that may well affect shelf life, taste and colour. Also, there is another part of the equation; each one of us has to take some responsibility when it comes to how we handle, cook and store our food purchases.
Can we be too cautious?
United Nations Covid 19 response
However, right now, this fits neatly with the Covid precautions we should all be taking. If we prevent cross contamination by separating food and thoroughly washing hands between touching different items, we can help preserve food safely. This is important, not just to stay healthy but also to make our food stay fresher for longer. For example, I noticed, while preparing lunch, a friend removed a block of parmesan from a sealed plastic container. She wrapped the end of the cheese in kitchen paper and grated it without touching the cheese surface. When this process was complete, she replaced the cheese back in the container, then removed the paper and returned it to the fridge. ‘Isn’t that a bit over the top?’ I asked ‘No’ she replied, if I don’t do this, bacteria from my hands remains on the cheese and grows. This way I find the cheese stays in better condition for longer and I waste less.’
How many food crises do we need to experience to get food safety right?
Hand washing and food hygiene is uppermost in our minds right now. We’ve seen Covid outbreaks in food processing plants. Also, in the past, we’ve experienced foot and mouth, swine and bird flu, BSE and the horse meat scandal. Back in 1981 contaminated colza oil killed over 600 producing what’s known as toxic oil syndrome which is a musculoskeletal disease. We do put significant trust in the foods we consume and sometimes that trust may be misplaced.
We do really want natural food with no artificial preservatives, and we want to be able to trust the food we eat. Certainly, the last lockdown gave us plenty of time to think about and study food labels in more detail. This is clearly driving the trend.
So, is there an alternative to nitrates and nitrates?
There certainly is and is comes under the moniker: Accel. It is created through fermenting celery and amazingly acts just like its artificial alternative. This product inhibits pathogen growth and keeps the colour better for longer while keeping things smelling and tasting good over time. Fermentation is definitely a key process when it comes to improving shelf life naturally. Vinegar is a key quality and many companies are experimenting with ‘smoky’ flavours to keep our taste buds tingling without relying on artificial preservatives.
I know how complex a task food safety, labelling, manufacturing and innovation is and there are some very responsible and exciting roles available in the food industry. I have been working recruitment for over 20 years and am keen to match challenging roles to the right candidates and vice versa. If I can help you find the right individual to help your company grow and innovate please do give me a call.
Meanwhile have a think about how your tastes and buying habits have changed through 2020. I’d love to know your experiences and what you do differently now.