Chilled or Frozen: Which is best?

Chilled or Frozen: Which is best?

I find it extraordinary that the general public has been inculcated by the Major Retailers to accept that chilled ready meals are worth paying more for than frozen. There’s no science, sagacity or sense that supports this trend other than it’s better for their turnover and profit.

When I started the Mister Dave’s frozen business I was asked to supply chilled meals to a few retailers. The first problem that bothered me was to find out how many day’s they could be stored chilled within acceptable microbial growth limits set out by the Foods Standards Agency. We had some lab tests done and initial results showed that 7 days was just about acceptable.

It was then suggested that I could achieve better results if I used modified atmosphere (MAP) to “gas flush” the meals. A modified atmosphere can be defined as one that is created by altering the normal composition of air (78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.03% carbon dioxide and traces of noble gases) to provide an optimum atmosphere for increasing the storage length of a particular type of product. This is more than common practise in chilled meal production. I’d say it’s now endemic and it’s why you see bloated packs when they’re near their USE BY date!

So more tests and hey presto we could achieve 9 days, with a nod and a wink? I still wasn’t convinced that I wanted to ‘take the gas’. I’d prefer to remain chilled OUT. Then the purveyors of all things long lasting suggested that I should use preservatives and some other enumbers which may add another couple of days to the shelf life. That suggestion probably took a couple of years off my shelf life as my rationale for being a curry chef was to make the best meals possible, something that I’d almost achieved on a couple of Fridays at my Lye restaurant!

I wasn’t about to start my ready meal business by abandoning the principles that had established the Brand over 10 years. In hindsight this may have cost me a bob or two. I still can’t accept that the major retailers are happy to sell chilled meals that were produced many days previous. Surely no one would make a cottage pie in their kitchen and put in the fridge to eat in about 8 days time. Nonsense isn’t it. But that’s what your buying into when you get one of those so tempting ready meals from you know who and the others!

Of course they’re all within limits laid down by the Food Police. But just look at the ingredients that the manufacturers have to add to inveigle the undiscerning public to pick up. There’s stabilisers to stop the natural separation of water from the sauce, acids and other preservatives to eke out the shelf life and maybe MSG (monosodium glutamate) to add taste to some bland ingredient. And loads more. I don’t think I’ve ever said to my wife to add a little msg as her spag bol’s a little tasteless. I know which acidic E number she’d respond with!

I’ve certainly nailed my mast firmly to the good ship FROZEN. No artificial flavours, preservatives or colourings in our hold. Only the best ingredients that can be obtained within price guidelines. That’s why Mister Dave’s frozen meals are priced at about £2.99. I can produce a cheaper meal but then it has to be smaller and certainly have much less chicken than the original 500g favourites.

Unfortunately the frozen giants view their customers as only interested in price so most of their ethnic ready meals retail between £1 to £1.50. If you take their margin and the suppliers production, packaging and delivery costs (pp&d)away from £1 you’re hardly left with anything for the meat and ingredients. You don’t need to be an economist to work that out with a pencil.

Most suppliers making £1 meals have the same pp&d costs per meal as Mister Dave’s. At £1 you’re probably eating 40p or a huge 40% worth of pp&d costs. They’re not too tasty I’d suggest. 40p of £2.99 equates to 13% which doesn’t need any MSG to make that comparison taste so much better.

I could go on, and I often do. But no doubt I’ll return to this subject again and probably again. My last thought to ponder on is that you don’t see any peas on the chilled shelves. They’re either in pea pods on the fresh veg counter, tins in the ambient aisles or most people buy them frozen. Why, because Captain Birdseye makes the compelling case of “freshest from field to frozen to retain the original flavour”. Similarly Mister Dave’s meals are quick frozen within xx minutes of making and have a best before date of about 18th months.

If I’m having one at home I prefer to defrost my meals then cook in a balti bowl. Maybe I’ll add some extra tomato and garnish with fresh coriander which is how I used to like them in the Lye restaurant. Call me an old romantic if you like but I’d prefer if you left out the romantic bit. Another thought, maybe I’ll take my wife Linn out on Valentines for a balti down in Lye. She say’s I’m incorrigible but I can’t remember when I was last incorriged!

Keep chilling OUT

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