“Do we really know what we’re putting on our plates?” The question presenter Kate Quilton asked in Food Unwrapped (Channel 4, 22 October, 8.30pm) has been raised numerous times since the horsemeat scandal in 2013. When M&S introduced complete traceability of all its beef products following the crisis, there was some scepticism. So, fellow presenter Jimmy Doherty put the retailer’s claims to the test, sending off a pack of M&S beefburgers to be assessed.
It turned out the burgers had been produced using beef from 27 farms in Scotland and northern England. M&S can name each one, along with the breed and even the names of the cows (a series of letters and digits). Professor Chris Elliott showed how the beef was tested using an iKnife to burn the meat. The “molecular signature of the smoke” reveals within a matter of seconds whether the meat is 100% beef. And DNA samples allow the retailer to trace its beef right back to the cow, which Doherty said “could become common practice in the future”.
But how about preventing parasites in sushi? Quilton visited high street chain Wasabi to find out how it ensures its fish is parasite-free (using farmed salmon from Norway and freezing wild fish before use).
Consumers watching the programme would no doubt have been reassured that both M&S and Wasabi take the authenticity of their products seriously. But with labelling scandals making headlines, the question of precisely what we’re putting on our plates remains as pertinent as ever.