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British Food Journal Volume 39 Issue 12 1937

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 December 1937


Mr. H H. Bagnall, B.Sc., F.I.C., Public Analyst for the City of Birmingham, comments in his annual report on the work done at the City laboratory and on the still apparent need for standards and definitions of food, and of legislation to enforce their application in manufacture or in shops. Of the 5,472 samples taken in the city under the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts 4 per cent. were found to be adulterated, but he observes that misdescription of articles of food is much more common than actual adulteration. The number of samples taken during the year was larger, and the variety greater, than in any previous year. About 140 different varieties of foods and drugs were examined, and few, if any, foods were not sampled. It was reassuring to learn that the Minister of Health was considering the introduction of legislation on the lines of the recommendations submitted in 1934 by the Departmental Committee which enquired into the working of the law as to the composition and description of articles of food other than milk. Ice‐cream was a case in point. In fifty‐one samples taken, the fat content varied between less than 2 per cent. and 19 per cent. Roughly, the samples were of two classes. Those containing less than 4 per cent. were bought mainly from carts in the streets of parks, and were probably the products of smaller makers; those with more than 8 per cent. were manufactured on a large scale by a few well‐known firms. “It is obvious something is wrong here,” Mr. Bagnall reports. “Apart from any question of price, ice cream is, or should be, a valuable article of food, and the purchaser should have some means of knowing what to expect when he asks for it. At the moment he may get a substance which approximates to frozen custard (not made with eggs !) or he may get a really first‐class product containing a considerable amount of cream. The position is similar with respect to a number of other products, particularly compounded articles; and the beneficial effect of legislation in such matters is clearly shown in the case of condensed and dried milks. This kind of governmental interference with manufacture used to be thought of as grandmotherly legislation; but, when one remembers the sort of statement, bearing no relation to the contents, that used to appear on tins of condensed milk, one cannot but feel that there may be some virtue in these departures from laisser‐faire methods. At any rate, no one would wish to return to the old haphazard days when condensed milk was simply what the manufacturers chose to make it. It is curious that the law is far more careful that the composition of feeding stuffs sold for the use of cattle should be made known to the purchaser than that articles sold for human consumption should be sold under a guarantee of quality. If I buy, say, cotton cake for feeding cows, the vendor is bound to give me an invoice stating the amounts of oil, protein and fibre contained in it, and severe penalties are entailed if false statements are made. If I buy an infant's food, however, there is no compulsion on the part of the maker to give particulars regarding its composition. In fact, the label may contain statements entirely at variance with the analysis, but which, nevertheless, are of too vague a character to become the subjects of police court proceedings. It is surely as important that the mother of a child should know something of the composition of the food she uses as that a farmer should know the food value of his cattle cakes, and it is to be hoped that legislation on such matters may not be unduly delayed. The misdescription of articles of food is a much more common thing than adulteration. Under modern conditions of inspection and sampling, it simply does not pay manufacturers and retailers to risk the cruder forms of adulteration and substitution, but the wide use of advertising as an aid to sales, often leads to the use of exaggerated statements regarding the quality and food value of articles of diet. We are all familiar with the extraordinary claims put forward on behalf of particular foods of well‐known composition which seek to show that they possess unique properties not shared by other similar foods. It is often impossible for the food analyst to check such statements, and the public is deceived into thinking that a superior article is being obtained. Often it is only in the advertisements relating to the article in question that one finds these exaggerated statements, and when a tin or packet is bought it is found that the label gives a much milder description of the contents. Under the present law only statements appearing on the label can be made the subject of legal proceedings. It is desirable that false claims appearing in advertisements should also be brought within the scope of food and drug legislation.” During the year a number of samples of pasteurised milk were examined by the “phosphatase test.” Of 112 samples, fifty‐eight were efficiently pasteurised; in thirty‐six cases some technical error had occurred during the process, such as imperfect temperature or time control, or a small admission of raw milk; and in the remaining eighteen cases there was evidence of gross negligence. The samples were taken at selected times and places thought likely to yield abnormal figures, so that too much weight should not be given to the fact that about 48 per cent. of the samples did not pass the test.”


(1937), "British Food Journal Volume 39 Issue 12 1937", British Food Journal, Vol. 39 No. 12, pp. 115-124.




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