Chef consulting his trainee while cooking salad

What do you do if you receive low quality ingredients?

Taking in a food delivery for a commercial kitchen is an important task, you are the front line between ensuring the quality of food coming into the kitchen is safe and is up to the standard to which you would expect.

There is a bit of a different between receiving low quality food on your kitchen delivery and receiving bad (unsafe) food so we need to be clear about the distinction and be clear on what it is that you are looking out for:

Low quality food

Low quality doesn’t mean bad and doesn’t always mean cheap, in the same way that expensive doesn’t always mean safe or high quality. Quality is in the eye of the beholder and in many ways, it comes down to the purpose of the ingredients. Afterall great quality cut of meat soon disappoints if it is used in the wrong dish.

Bad food

Food that has gone bad or is swiftly heading that way should be pretty easy to spot. Food that smells, feels slimy, appears discoloured or that is clearly degrading before your eyes should always be disposed of immediately. Any ingredient that makes you stop and question if it is ok shouldn’t be risked.

A reminder on how to check your commercial kitchen food delivery

  • Delivery vehicles must be refrigerated if used for transporting perishable foods. Air temperature of delivery vehicles:

- For chilled foods 0°C to +5°C

- For frozen food –18°C

  • Where food and non-food items are transported in the same vehicle, they must be suitably segregated to prevent cross contamination.
  • The delivery personnel must behave in a hygienic manner and wear suitable protective clothing.

  • The food should be free from obvious contamination and in good condition. There should be no evidence of infestation.

  • The food must be within its ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date, where appropriate
  • Prepacked goods must, by law, contain additional information such as any storage conditions including storage temperatures, a list of ingredients, origin of food, etc. Any special instructions must be strictly adhered to.

  • The packaging must be undamaged. Reject immediately any damaged containers, torn packages, dented, rusty, leaking or blown cans. Blown cans may be the result of bacterial contamination. Under-processing may result in the production of gas, due to the action of the surviving micro-organisms, which causes the can to swell.

  • All high-risk foods must be delivered either chilled or frozen. A probe thermometer should be used to ensure that the temperature of chilled food deliveries is less than or equal to +5°C and frozen food is not greater than –18°C. Food which is delivered at the wrong temperature must be rejected.

  • Food deliveries should not be left exposed to the elements. All deliveries should be transferred to suitable storage without delay. Raw and cooked foods if transported in the same vehicle should be segregated to avoid cross-contamination.

Receiving bad ingredients

Bad food is clearly identifiable, if it looks bad and smells bad then it is mostly likely… bad and in this instance, you shouldn’t accept the order. Hand it back to the delivery driver and refuse to accept it. You should never serve food that is bad, it is far better to remove a dish from the menu than to risk sending out a dish that was created from questionable ingredients.

Initially you might think that sending food back is going to pose a service problem, now you have a busy kitchen and no food to serve but the truth is, it is not often that you are receiving an order for ingredients that you will use that day that can’t be found in a local store, butchers shop or veg shop.

Most of us work in commercial kitchens for local restaurants, hotels, care homes, and schools. Work placements like these tend to work on a rotational delivery basis. The food delivered on a Monday for example is received unpacked and moved into stores for use on another day so turning away a delivery is never usually problem, you have more than enough time to get a replacement delivery before you need the ingredients.

If things have really gone a little haywire, the delivery was booked late, you ran out of ingredients and are relying on the delivery that turned out to be bad, then unless you are working in a remote location you do still have options. As Clive Levitt, a Blue Arrow Chef mentioned in our recent interview many supermarkets are selling ingredients at such great prices that grabbing the last minute items you need should always be possible.

Occasionally, the warning signs might be a little more subtle. For example, you could find yourself staring at a cut of meat that smells fine, has no evidence of bacteria or and seems to be absolutely fine but looks as though it has been through the wringer then it could be that the animal unfortunately died a pretty gnarly death.

Animals that are highly stressed at slaughter experience a depletion in their muscle glycogen reserves and the quality of the resulting meat can dramatically decline. Most carcasses that have come from stressed animals are discarded in the processing chain however if you have some that lands on your work top then you need to be aware that depending on the type and cut, the meat can be of poor quality, flavourless and it most cases it will have a shorter shelf life, if not completely unusable. There is a host of information available on this topic online but one report that is particularly helpful can be found here.

Receiving low quality ingredients

Receiving low quality food is a little different, you do still of course have the option to hand it back to the delivery driver and refuse to accept the delivery, especially if the items were not what you were expecting. But if this is going to pose a problem with the days service you might think twice about it.

Perhaps a better approach would be to accept the necessary ingredients (providing they are safe) and refuse the rest, resolving to find a different provider for future orders and leaving a note for anyone else doing the ordering to let them know.

Making the best of the situation by salvaging less than perfect ingredients.

Freezing food

If you are concerned that an ingredient is not going to last until you need it, you can buy yourself a little more time by freezing the ingredient in its raw form and defrosting it ready for prep, or you could consider cooking the dish right away and either refrigerating it or freezing it until the day it is due to be served.

Less than perfect veg

An ingredient that doesn’t look its best but is otherwise perfectly fine to serve and eat can become the star of a dish where appearance isn’t everything. Soups, stews and curries can saviour of a vegetable with the perfect face for radio so before you reject them or throw them away consider what dishes you are making and see if their appearance is going to make any difference.

5 ways to using up vegetables that are not pretty or are past their best.

  1. Tomatoes that may not be good looking enough for a bruschetta or a caprice salad could make a fabulously warming tomato soup or a rich flavoursome pasta sauce.
  2. Ripe bananas are well known for making tasty banana bread, but peaches and strawberries are also perfect additions.
  3. Berries, mangoes and peaches make great chunky yummy sauces for puddings and deserts, even the plainest vanilla ice cream is instantly jazzed up with a fresh fruit sauce.
  4. Transform a stale loaf of bread into comforting traditional bread and butter pudding.
  5. Before heading to the compost bin try your hand at fermenting – the best vegetables for fermenting are carrots, green beans, peppers, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers.

As an Agency Chef you will rarely be required to design a menu or find new providers for ingredients. Often you are stepping into someone else’s shoes and taking over where they left off, so a little flexibility and managing your expectations goes a long way.

It is situations like these, you can pull out all of your training, knowledge and skills and put them to great use. Low quality, cheaper ingredients can taste amazing with a pinch of herbs, a sprinkle of spices and healthy dollop of Chef know how. Take the time to develop your creativity, adaptability and knowledge of herbs and spices, this will stand you in good stead for future placements.

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