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FOOD & DRINK

French public warned over 10 ‘summer food scams’

French consumers have been warned about ten products which have been labelled "summer food scams" due to their misleading packaging. These are the items you should watch out for.

French public warned over 10 'summer food scams'
Photo: AFP
A new campaign by French food watchdog Foodwatch “Scam on the Label” shows that despite our best efforts to pay attention to where our food comes from and find out whether it's good for us, we might be being thwarted due to misleading packaging.
 
The campaign, which focuses on ingredients people are likely to put in salads, such as raw vegetables, fruits and pre-prepared meats, exposes ten food “scams of the summer”. 
 
While most are related to the origin of the foods, some of these “scams” are linked to deceptive ingredients lists. 
 
“This campaign is there to denounce them [these brands],” says Mégane Ghorbani, campaign manager at Foodwatch.
 
Mixed raw vegetables: white cabbage, carrot and celery (Florette)
 
According to the food watchdog, “The French flag and 'prepared in France' label is misleading”. While some of the ingredients come from France, Florette also sources ingredients in Spain and Great Britain. 
 
The problem with this is that 8 out of ten consumers are willing to fork out more for food made in France, said Foodwatch. 
 
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Photo: AFP
 
Dried Cranberries (Ocean Spray)
 
You might think you're choosing the healthy option by adding dried cranberries to your meal but be warned — you may be consuming more sugar than you think. 
 
According to Foodwatch, Ocean Spray adds extra sugar to its dried cranberries which — on top of what is already contained in the fruit — means that each packet is made up of 74 percent sugar. 
 
100% traditionally smoked chicken using beech wood (Knacki Herta)
 
Chicken, of course. But what part? According to the association, the meat of these sausages consists of “75% chicken skin and mechanically separated meat – scraped off the carcass of the poultry”. And to perfect the mixture, sodium nitrite, a controversial additive.
 
Pitted green olives from Provence in Herbes de Provence (Tropic Apéro en Provence)
 
While you'd be forgiven for thinking that these olives are about as Provencal as it gets, considering it is written no fewer than three times on the packaging, according to Foodwatch, only the Herbes de Provence actually come from this area of France, which means a measly 0.1 percent of the product. 
 
Organic smoked bacon sticks – 25 percent salt (Fleury Michon)
 
Don't be fooled by the “organic” label on the packet — it doesn't mean the bacon is healthier, says Foodwatch. 
 
In fact, according to the watchdog it could even be worse for you, with a higher level of salt and more saturated fat contained in the organic range. 
 
Charentais melon
 
You might have picked yourself up a nice Charentais melon but — somewhat confusingly — that doesn't necessarily mean it's come from Charente.
 
The name, according to Foodwatch is purely commercial and is no guarantee of the origin of the fruit.  
 
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Charentais melon. Photo: Neal Ziring/Wikicommons
 
White mushrooms from Paris
 
… and the same goes for white mushrooms from Paris. 
 
Light vinaigrette made in Dijon (Amora)
 
Mustard accounts for just 0.7 of this recipe and Foodwatch says that these mustard seeds are not necessarily of French origin. 
 
Meat from Grisons (Aoste)
 
The packaging might say this meat comes from “the heart of Grisons in Switzerland” but the beef used by Aoste is labeled “EU or non-EU” so there's no real guarantee of its origin. 
 
Lobster sticks (Coraya)
 
This might well be the most shocking of the bunch. 
 
According to Foodwatch, these lobster sticks do not contain any trace of lobster but do contain a controversial additive called glutamate.
 
As a result, on Tuesday an online petition, which has so far garnered over 10,000 signatures, was set up against this product. 
 
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The French food you love but should really steer clear of Photo: Alpha/Flickr

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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