Thursday, April 2, 2015

Rating the Freshness of Food Purchases

I have to say that I have been relatively pleased with the alliance formed between KGO-TV (the ABC affiliate for the Bay Area) and Consumer Reports, particularly since the latter seems to have dropped the "lifetime" subscription as a reward for a donation I made many decades ago (reminding me a bit of Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Nevertheless, I have always been skeptical about Consumer Reports articles about food and nutrition, since they would often base their findings on attributes that different from the criteria stressed by other concerned organizations, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Therefore, I have to question the value of today's report on the quality of fresh produce at different outlets. Regardless of the criteria behind the evaluations, the entire path that brings an item of produce to a customer's shopping bag is long, involved, and totally local. Thus, I have to wonder if, when a particular store is listed in operating out of a large number of states, the resulting rating is an averaging over all of those states or the result of examining only a few (or even one) of them. Even more problematic is that the ratings may have depended in when the outlets were evaluated, since it is not hard to imagine conditions changing radically from one week (or day) to the next.

These days my biggest concerns with inventory, fresh or processed, is how decisions are made. It is not hard to imagine that the large chains now relegate all such decisions to software. They all have had problems making ends meet since the economic downturn, meaning that they have all had to downsize, meaning that they probably let go of a good deal of "expert knowledge," letting some fast-talking consultant convince them that the knowledge would be "preserved" in the software. Indeed, I think we all have cause for concern that the expertise of a human evaluator may be out of the loop for just about any purchase of food made anywhere, with the possible exception of farmers' markets. Furthermore, I suspect that Google-informed consumers have less intuitive knowledge about when the food they buy may be contaminated or just spoiled. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders whether this all amounts to a skillfully calculated plot to "reduce the surplus population!"

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