Have you ever eaten tinned grapefruit segments?
Have you ever wondered how the produced those nice clean segments? How they peeled each grapefruit, separated the segments and removed all the pith?
They must be using some clever machinery, right?
Last night a new TV programme called Food Unwrapped on the UK's Channel Four went to a grapefruit canning factory in Swaziland to see how they really do it?
When the grapefruit arrive at the factory they are steam blanched to soften their skins. Then they go to the peeling and segmenting process.
This turned out not to involve really ingenious machinery but 250 African ladies and their fingernails.
The grapefruit were now segmented but still had their pith. To removed that they soaked the segments in what was described as food grade [wtf?] hydrochloric acid. This did the job but left the segments contaminated with the acid.
To get rid of the acid they then washed the grapefruit in caustic soda, another powerful corrosive.
We were told the alkaline caustic soda neutralised the hydrochloric acid and left the segments safe to eat.
Should we believe that? Well, if I lived in a country with a government that took food quality and safety seriously, and the interests of its citizens carried more weight than the bribes of food industry lobbyists, I might.
Unfortunately, the UK is not such a country and so I do not.
I wonder if the same technique of hydrochloric acid and caustic soda washes is used to produce other tinned fruit, such as orange segments.
The second half of the programme was on the pro-biotic industry. Where do they get the bacteria they add to products to make them pro-biotic? I don't think many people who saw the programme will be buying pro-biotic products in the future.
This was an excellent programme and I am looking forward to seeing the next episode which is on UK Channel 4 on Monday the 17 September 2012 at 8.30pm.
The piece on grapefruit canning was a particularly fine piece of reporting by Kate Quilton.
The series web page is here. You may be able to watch the first episode though the process seems a bit temperamental. Be sure to click to accept cookies before starting viewing.