Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Read at your own risk

I promised my family I would warn them about this blog with an obvious title regarding a tour I took at the Hormel pork processing plant in Austin, MN. It’s interesting that in a world of people so concerned about “food miles” and processing that many people don’t really know or want to know where the food comes from. Although I can’t divulge many things I saw do to a confidentiality agreement, I do want to say that their plant was very clean and sanitary. By the way, I was once asked by a student where beef comes from… I digress…

Hormel processes 19,500 pigs a day in just this plant. Only a fraction of the millions processed every day by all pork processing plant in America by the way. As I mentioned, the plant is extremely sanitary and USDA inspectors are at every key stage of the processing systems. It was absolutely amazing to see a whole hog at the beginning processed down to edible food ready for sale in just one day. Those products that are not smoked anyway… Give it a couple of days…

Hormel is sometimes synonymous with SPAM since it is their most popular item. Fun fact: Hawaii is the largest consumer of SPAM… Talk about a modern marvel of processing, I saw only about 4 people total that worked on the SPAM processing line. The raw SPAM is canned and sealed then cooked right in the can in the biggest oven I ever saw! After it comes out, it is labeled, packed and sent to the shelves. I just had to get a can when I got home to try it… Let’s just say I am as fond of it as I was 25 years ago (last time I ate it) when I had it with my Grandfather; who did enjoy it by the way. Anyway, this was a staple during WWII and nobody will take that away from them.

To give you an idea of the sanitary requirements, every stage of the plant we entered, we had to wash and sanitize our hands and shoes. We were given frocks and hard hats as well. (Wouldn’t want a 250 lb pig falling on our heads) Yes, we walked under and through a conveyor of carcasses. Note to self: pigs have blood too… The group I was with represented 15 self-operated food service universities and I believe most had the same reaction. We were thrust into every aspect of the plant in such a way as not too many questions were asked. By the end it was clear that Hormel had this down to a science with every aspect of the hog utilized. I can’t divulge how, but let’s just say I will never eat Jell-O again! I would recommend Hormel products as I have seen firsthand the sanitary and humane processing facility in its entirety. Products to try are the Black Forrest and Cure 81® varieties.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Want to know how many calories?

The FDA is seeking public input about the possibility of requiring caloric information on menus. The idea is that a restaurant with 20 or more locations; with similar menus will post caloric nutritional information on their menus; including drive-thrus.
Personally, I have an issue with this, but really can understand the reasoning. In the decades past, dining out was a luxury and an enjoyable costly excursion for most families. In this case, I don’t really see the need for caloric information because families knew that going out was not going to be as healthy as dining in. This is the reason we would go out. What’s changed? Dining out is no longer a simple pleasurable activity for many. Dining out has now become the actual source of sustenance for families on a daily basis. Although I don’t agree with this practice on so many levels, (read past blogs) I do understand that this is becoming the norm.

The point is that families are dining out 4-5 times a week or more because they are unable or unwilling to cook for themselves. I would like to believe that those unable to cook at home try to find healthy alternatives, but the motivation for those unwilling may be a bit shortsighted on their part. Dare I say a little lazy? In this case, cost is probably the driving factor and as we all know, unhealthy dining costs less.

So, if you would like to see how many 1,000s of calories you consume from just a burger, fries, and soda, please vote in the affirmative at the FDA website. If you would like to change your life; cook for your family healthily, vote “NO”, then stop by your local bookstore and educate yourself. It is easier than you think!

If you wish to comment, follow this link. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm218134.htm


Friday, July 2, 2010

Rice Chef’s take top honors at the Southwest Food Expo

Congratulations to four Rice University chefs who did just an outstanding job in competition. The categories they competed in were:

W- Akaushi bone in Beef Short Ribs & P-1 Hot/Warm Dessert

Chef Roger Elkhouri (CEC, ACE) took second place and a silver ACF medal while Chef Edward Castillo (CCC) took third place and a silver ACF medal; both in the (W) category. Even though we did not achieve the top spot [this time], taking two out of three of the top spots is huge! Great job…

Pastry Chef Maricela Lucciola (CWPC) and Pastry Chef Selena Rivera (CWPC) each earned a bronze medal in the (P-1) dessert category. Great job for their first competition in this challenging category…

I am often asked what makes Rice University Dining Services great and the answer is as simple as counting the medals around the necks of our 10 ACF certified chefs.