Discovering fresh meat…

… no, not Jack Whitehall and friends on Channel 4, but butchers. And farm shops.

I have a confession: in the (almost) two years since learning that my son has a peanut allergy, I have shied away from buying meat over the counter at a butchers or farm shop.

Why? Because I’m comforted by the absence of a “may contain nuts” label on pre-packed supermarket meat … and also for fear of appearing slightly bonkers to a butcher asking if a whole chicken is nut free. Whilst I know asking about ingredients and assessing cross contamination risks is necessary when buying food sold loose, this has been the one scenario I’ve ducked.

Allow me to explain. At present, meat sold over the counter doesn’t have to be labelled in the same way as pre-packed meat would in a supermarket (although from December 2014, allergen information will have to be provided for foods sold loose). So, if you buy pre-packed meat from a supermarket and it contains one or more of the top 14 food allergens (peanuts, nuts etc), the label must state this. Obviously, you would expect (horse jokes aside) that the only ingredient in minced beef would be “beef”, however the rusk or other filler used in sausages, for example, might have nuts as an ingredient.

More importantly, for me, is the confidence I take from there being no “may contain nuts” warning. Say I was in a supermarket that I knew would ordinarily use a “may contain” warning on its products at the drop of a hat, if there was the slightest chance of cross contamination. If I picked up a packet of fresh meat labelled “chicken” and there was no mention of “may contain nuts” or similar wording on the label, I would then feel confident that I was buying chicken that (as you’d expect!) was nut free. Whereas, if I bought a chicken from a butchers, I would not have the comfort of the label and would have to ask about cross contamination.

It’s always felt slightly bizarre to wander into a butchers and ask for a piece of meat with the caveat “but can I just check, is it nut free?”. So I’ve persisted in buying meat that could easily have been three times around the world before hitting the supermarket shelf, as opposed to from a local butchers or farm shop where the shop keeper could probably tell me the cow’s name and birthday.

Knowing this is a slightly mad state of affairs, when we recently moved to a village with a farm shop, we made a conscious effort to change our ways. When asking about nuts in the shop, far from causing a snigger, we were told that all the fresh meat would be fine, but they would need to check with their butcher about the additional ingredients in the sausages. On returning a couple of weeks later, they had indeed checked, and we were assured the sausages were nut safe too.

I’m now a farm shop convert and, if anyone’s in the area, can thoroughly recommend Prestbury Farm Shop … for fantastic food and for taking seemingly nutty-sounding nut mum’s queries seriously.

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