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On being a brand ambassador

grow, LIVE By November 17, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , , 2 Comments

As my readers know, this is a magazine – not a blog.  From time to time I (as the publisher) feel the need to pontificate.  (Hopefully with wit and good grammar.)  Hold your tongue  – you readers with hefty English degrees..  This one is  ‘on being an ambassador’ (and I’m one for writing like I speak).

I was invited to an overview of P&G products.  Having been a McDonald’s All-Access Mom I know what it means to align yourself with a brand.  (Insert nail biting here).  You must know everything about the company and it’s practices – often more than the employees or executives.  You must field questions via social media, be honest on camera and willing to put in 14-hour days.  You must be an investigative reporter with discerning questions (without being kicked out of the program entirely – for what good would that do?).

I admit that I hesitated.  The McDonald’s experience was more than I had bargained for and yet I discovered a company and culture that were incredible.  And then I was asked to be a P&G Mom.  Who was I to demerit another ‘huge’ company based on rumour and social media pressure?  But the term ‘ambassador’ has certain responsibilities.  I agreed to see what they had to say.  I knew that given my experience, I was able to ask the right questions.  I was willing to take the social media heat.

So I went.  And I am so thrilled I did.  Of course I’m a ‘Four Season’s girl (they hosted it there) and love trying new products (which many of us have donated and have been sent to Hurricane Sandy victims in New York with the help of Coach USA).   But there was more.  More good.  More positive.

The executives I spoke to about toxicity and environmental responsibility emailed me back the next day (on a Saturday) with specific answers.  The PR folks were proactive in addressing my concerns.  Other executives from Proctor and Gamble delved into my mind, looked into my eyes over dinner – and they REALLY wanted to know how I felt about…  laundry – not just their laundry products.  I felt as if I could make an impact.  If I am honest, open and transparent – when I bring concerns from my readers to the appropriate people – perhaps I / we can help guide the direction of the company.  I really believe this is what P&G had in mind with the program.

On the big day of the conference, P&G hired a moderator to get feedback from real moms on so many of their products.  That’s corporate responsibility.  That’s smart.  (It also gives them a huge savings on big-idea consulting.).  When the McDonald’s executives discussed their program over dinner with the 4 moms involved in the All-Access program, I certainly felt as if we had made an impact.  The CEO took handwritten notes. He asked a hundred questions.  (And only a portion of our feedback was positive. But they didn’t want to hear the positive stuff.)  They wanted the moms’ perspective on what needed to be changed to make them a better company.  They know what they do well.  They want to be better.  And as true ‘ambassadors’, we were in a position to tell them.

That’s what an ‘ambassador’ means.  You need to know more about the company than most of the employees.  And be willing to be smart and mature on social media.  You need to think outside the box.  To seriously consider negative feedback from social media and take a risk to get the real answers.  You need to meet the people behind the company – the chemists and farmers and salespeople.  This is why companies are paying attention to Mom ambassadors.  That is what will propel the profession and help the public connect with the brands.  And that is why any time we agree to the role of ‘ambassador’, it is a big job.  A big responsibility.

From what I have heard and read so far, I am very much an ambassador.  But I chose to get my BA in theatre and politics – not in chemistry or sales – and I cannot learn all of these arts in a few days.  So I invite all of my readers – just as I did as a McDonald’s All-Access Mom – to ask questions.  You know more than I do about your own experience as a Mom and a professional – and as an ambassador, I am simply a conduit to extracting honest and relevant answers.  We’re all parents.  We all want healthy, happy kids.  Ask me.  I assure you I will get the answers.  That’s what an ambassador does.

 

 

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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What's in My Bag: The Coolest Flash Drives sent by PR Folks

GEAR, tech By August 30, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

I get a ton of PR pitches and therefore a staggering number of flash drives.  Incidentally, I also receive a ton of CD roms filled with information I can’t access with my MacBook Air.  (PR People please take note).  I thought I’d follow through with Kelby Carr’s ingenious ‘Marketers Who Understand Blogger Outreach‘ post with something fun before the long weekend.  So I emptied my USB Drawer and found my ultimate favourites from Public Relations teams who know their brand and respect me as a writer enough to make me want to grin.  Here are my favourites:

1.  McCafe, who engraved my Twitter handle ‘@urbanmommies‘ on the back.
2.  Honda – A clever car key (that I could make into a necklace a la Tiffany & Co and take my data with.)
3.  Disney Fantasy.  Rubber (waterproof I think), fun for kids to play with and very chic.
4.  Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe.  Gorgeous wood.  Refined and symmetrical.
5.  Dole.  Because who doesn’t want to carry a banana-shaped flash drive in their purse?
6.  Disney Cars Land – in the shape of a race announcer’s microphone.
7.  Store Brand Formula.com in the shape of a formula bottle.  Because I laughed out loud, as no Canadian PR company would ever attempt this given the volatile and judgmental Canadian nursing climate, and the most popular articles on UrbanMommies are breastfeeding-related.
8.  The Victorinox 4GB super-secure flashdrive which cannot be broken into if you’re a PC user.  And because it is made by Victorionox and stores information on it’s own brand, which is smart and somehow ironic.  And I love the spy-like nature of it’s security.
9.  The ultimate: The G. Marquis Winery flashdrive in a branded wine cork.  Because it floats, it’s durable, cool, on-brand, and, well.. they did their homework.

Cheers!

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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Ronald McDonald House Charities

charity, FAM By March 22, 2012 Tags: , , 2 Comments

We were introduced to our first Ronald McDonald House in London, Ontario on our final All-Access Trip.  With 12 Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada, 309 around the globe and plans for 2 more in Canada located in Red Deer and St John’s, the scope of this charity is huge.

I was embarrassed that I only knew a few things to begin – like 10 cents from every Happy Meal goes to the charity, and that families stay there when their child is ill and hospitalized.  The amount I didn’t know, and had trouble imagining, was what changed my perspective on life more than anything else in the McDonald’s All-Access Moms Program.  Meeting real people in crisis is a powerful thing.   People with real stories, pain, and incredible strength.  I hope that my involvement with the charity is limited to volunteering, and I pray that I will never be one of the 10,000 Canadian families per year who become residents in one of the houses.

Just imagine being a parent of a child with leukemia when your spouse has to stay at home working. Imagine being a 4-year-old sibling of a sick child who doesn’t understand why Christmas isn’t happening this year like normal.  Imagine being a Mother who spends every waking moment at a hospital with no time to cook or do laundry.  The doctor’s visits when there is bad news, or when there is good news and hope.  Imagine just for a second and then push it out of your mind.  Ronald McDonald House exists in order to give families the gift of time.  As Margaret, the executive director at the Ronald McDonald House in London uttered: “We can’t buy the children time, but we can give it away.”  The gift of preparing hot meals, dealing with Christmas shopping, laundry and expenses can allow families to spend precious time together as a unit.

Here’s what I didn’t know:

1.  The first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974.

2.  New initiatives for the charity include Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in hospitals and Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles which may be used to travel to inner cities or remote areas where there are limited resources.  The 40 x 8 feet mobile vehicles are specially designed to deliver pediatric health care services, where children need it most.

3.  McDonalds underwrites the salaries and all expenses of Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada employees so that 100 percent of dollars raised go back to the Houses.  This is very rare.

4.  The (Canadian) federal and (Ontario) provincial governments have supported the Houses through capital funding as well. Recently, the Infrastructure Stimulus Funding program parceled out over 22 million to renovate and increase the number of rooms in the Toronto, Hamilton and London facilities.

5.  The family dinner program is a crucial component of daily life for families using the Houses.  Individuals from the community are able to sign up to donate food, time and cooking skills to make a dinner for the House. The value to families is immense.  After a long day at the hospital, parents and siblings get a home cooked meal that they don’t have to prepare or fund.  And volunteers can see the immediate impact of their efforts as they dine with the grateful families.

6.  Although it’s not completely free to stay, thanks to the support of their sponsors, Ronald McDonald House families pay on average only $11 per day though no family is ever turned away due to an inability to pay.

7.  Despite the increase in beds and space for families with children in hospitals, the Ronald McDonald House in London in particular has an occupancy rate of 86 per cent.  Wow!

8.  $37 million has been raised since 2004 from Happy Meals alone.  That’s ten cents at a time.  You can do the math.  I’m kind of inept with decimals…

9.  Spaces in the London House include: 5 computers with internet access, a toddler playroom, children’s library, play space for 6-12 year-olds, teenage room, fitness centre and a home theatre room. The different areas and nooks within the house allow families privacy and encourage them to live their lives as normally as possible.  The respect for the individuals is immense.  Families have their own locked cupboards in the kitchen in case the kids will only eat nutella or mac and cheese.  Tupperware and bags are readily on-hand if families would prefer to eat later or take their dinner back to the hospital. My favourite place was the treasure chest.  This room is very special and has a magical effect on the children that stay at the House.  But I can’t say anymore…I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the pirates.

10.  There is a section in many Houses, just as welcoming as the other rooms, where families whose children are immune-compromised can stay, in order to further prevent the spread of germs to these children.

I used to volunteer for many organizations and since having had kids I have struggled to incorporate charity into my life.  I have now found a place I can put down roots and show the kids what it means both for us and families in need to help.  Whether we cook a meal, take unwrapped toys to help siblings adjust to their temporary surroundings, donate some Tupperware containers or teach a tap dance class in the House to help release some stress.  I want to incorporate this charity into my life with my kids.  I keep thinking more creatively about how I can use my unique talents to help – donating time and talents are just as valuable as contributing money.  I took my boys to our local Ronald McDonald House yesterday to deliver toys.  They met many children and played, hugged and laughed.  For many, I think the friendship was a more powerful gift than the toys.

You can find the other All-Access Mom blogs on the Cityline Microsite.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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McDonald's Chicken: From Egg to Nugget

EAT, family meals By February 6, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , 4 Comments

Picture this.  London, 2011.  A big boardroom full of Cargill Employees, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), McDonald’s employees, and 4 absolutely stiff, petrified Moms.  And a baby (Mo is so devoted her 3 week-old joined us).  We knew how these things worked by now and how this tour would go…. coffee, an intense 3-hour crash course about the industry and how the facility is run, with farming fodder thrown-in and tweets being answered at the same time.  Then a lunch.  And then.  Gasp.  A plant tour.  (You thought the gasp was for the crazy helmets, lab coats, safety goggles and hairnets, didn’t you?)  Unlike our beef and potato plant tours, however, for this tour we were slated to see the… I have trouble saying it.  The point at which an alive chicken becomes a not-alive chicken.  We were terrified.  Why don’t I start at the beginning, though.  The chicken.  No.  The egg. Snicker. (See – I use humour when I’m not quite comfortable).

From Egg to Chicken:

The eggs are collected daily from the farms and transported to a hatchery where they are incubated for 19 days. A ‘setter’ constantly turns the eggs to keep them warm and provides a simulation similar to a mother hen sitting on top of them. That revelation kind of validated my role as a mother.  Kind of.  In a George Orwell kind of way.  At the 19-day mark, the eggs are vaccinated and transferred to hatch baskets where they will hatch within 2 days.  Once hatched, the chicks are separated from the eggshells and transferred to chicken farms until market age (40-45 days old).

From Chicken to Egg:

I’m completely convinced after meeting the farming experts, regulators, and Cargill employees, that care for the animals really is paramount.  Cargill deals with 140 chicken farms and all must meet very rigorous standards as specified by McDonald’s.  In Canada, the family farm model is the norm.  Having farmers own and care for their chickens until the point at which they are transported from the farm for processing helps ensure the quality and integrity of the farm.

The barns are kept at 28 – 32 degrees celsius and the chickens roam around on shavings.  They always have access to feed and water and are free to roam within the barn. Federal regulations in Canada recommend that no more chickens can be in a barn than 31 kilos per meter square.  Farm managers and their staff visit the barn throughout the day.

For all of you who are going to ask about ‘free range’ in the barns, the chickens in these barns are just meat birds (broiler chickens).  These are very different than egg layers. The broiler chickens are kept in barns to ensure food safety.  If these meat birds were outside they would be more susceptible to disease.

Advances in feed for the birds mean that currently, 2 pounds of grain fed to a chicken will produce 1 pound of chicken.  The feed is 88 percent grain, 10 percent protein, and 1-2 percent vitamin supplements.

All catchers and drivers are trained in animal welfare practices and as of July 1, 2011, a person must be specially licensed to transport chickens. The live birds are put into crates and the birds must be able to move comfortably. They are on the trucks only 4-8 hours, as most farms are within an hour or 2 of the London Cargill plant.  During the warm summer months, the birds are misted to keep them more comfortable in the heat.

From Alive Chicken to Not-Alive Chicken:

In the Cargill plant, 3,200 different food safety and quality checks occur on a daily basis. There are even 2 X-ray machines that detects residual bones or foreign material – and the chicken meat passes through 2-3 times!

I was shocked to hear that 80-90,000 chickens are processed daily.  900 people work at the plant, and only 3 per cent leave the facility each year. Cargill boasts one of the lowest turnover rates for the meat industry in the world.

The facility is separated into the raw chicken processing part and the food manufacturing part.  For food safety reasons, employees wash their hands and go through a boot sanitizer and, in addition to regular cleaning, the entire plant is completely cleaned and disinfected nightly by 60 people – like the inside of a dishwasher.  I wish my house had that capability.

When the live chickens come into the plant, they are removed from the truck by a human being on a scissor lift to ensure that the employee is at the same level as the crates. This is better for people, to help avoid back problems, as well as the chickens.

In the slaughter area, everyone was so calm and peaceful I didn’t know where I was until it was pointed out to me.  It wasn’t what I was expecting.  It was very dark, with a blue light shining.  As per Temple Grandin’s recommendations on animal welfare (link to beef post), the facility has been audited and Temple Grandin has approved of the process itself. In addition, blue lights are used because birds can’t see the colour blue so it appears dark.  They are hung by the ankles, a plate or bar rubs the breast of the bird and they hang touching each other, shoulder to shoulder. I witnessed first-hand how calm this makes the birds.  They are not flapping or making noise.  They travel on a rounded track and are dipped quickly in water where an electrical stun renders the chicken insensible to pain, which means they are unconscious and alive but do not feel any pain. Their necks are cut and the bleed-out occurs while the chicken is unconscious so they are dead before they wake.

To remove the feathers, the birds go through a hot water bath and pickers – rubber fingers – massage the bird and take out feathers. The head and feet are removed and a machine removes the organs, transferring the viscera to a separate line. The organs and bird are kept together for inspection so that if the inspector and vet condemn a bird, the whole bird will be disposed of – again for food safety.  Fifteen federal inspectors, including four CFIA vets work at the London facility.  Once the chicken and organs have been inspected and approved, the meat moves on to food processing. Every part of the chicken has a use. The organs are used for pet food and animal feed, while the blood, feathers and offals are sold to a rendering company that makes ingredients for animal feeds, fertilizers and markets such as cosmetics, rubber and explosives.

The bird is placed in a chilling tank for 1 hour and must cool to less than 4 degrees Celsius in order to debone, which means to remove the bones from the meat. Chlorine is present in the chiller for sanitation purposes, much like a swimming pool. Levels are monitored every hour.  At this point, an antimicrobial treatment is applied.  It is cetylpyridinium chloride – the same substance contained in mouthwash. This is an opportunity to reduce salmonella. The bird is then rinsed.  For the record, this is when I relaxed significantly.  I was now looking at chickens like I’d buy in a supermarket.

75 per cent of the original bird goes into debone process, and I was shocked at the number of people working together to debone the chickens.  By hand.  Seriously.  Wow.  There is no mechanically separated meat in McDonald’s products. The frames of the chicken that are left at the end of the process get sent to another facility for people who use mechanically separated meat for hotdogs and other products.

The Making of McNuggets:

The white breast meat, along with chicken stock and a natural proportion of skin from the breast is placed into a huge blender.  I didn’t realize that there is skin in the nugget mixture but this helps to hold the shape.  The meat is then mixed and chilled using CO2.  McNuggets are formed, not ground.  There are 4 shapes that are pressed out with a rolling cookie cutter: boot, bow-tie, ball and bell.  The reason they are all standard in shape and size is to ensure consistency in all McDonald’s restaurants.  This guarantees both food safety (standard cooking times in restaurants) and portion control.

Once the fun shapes pop out, they are coated in batter, dusted with flour and then given a final coat of tempura batter.  Who knew?  From here they are par-fried and placed directly into the freezer. A thin mist of water is sprayed onto them, as tempura is susceptible to dehydration. They are then inspected and packaged to be sent off to the restaurants.

Grilled Chicken:

We also witnessed the grilled chicken being made.  It’s pretty simple – it’s just one huge hunk of breast meat but a laser-guided water jet cutter trims it to an exact size.  Very James Bond.

In all, I will still eat chicken.  I will still eat McNuggets.  I’m satisfied with the animal treatment and food safety.  I think I’ll stick with the grilled chicken in snack wraps and sandwiches, as there are fewer ingredients, but the nuggets sure are yummy!  For the other All-Access blogs please click here, or to see the UrbanMommies Q and A, click here.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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McDonald’s Chicken Q and A

EAT, family meals By February 6, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , 3 Comments

As with every All-Access trip, our published polls readers for questions and has promised to find the answers.  Here they are!

Q: What about vaccines, antibiotics and hormones used in chicken products?

A: Vaccines are administered once throughout the chickens’ life to prevent the birds from dying of diseases and improve the health of the whole flock. In order to feed millions of people and remove undue suffering of the animals, McDonald’s and Cargill’s policy is to vaccinate. Antibiotics are only given if a bird tests positive for illness, which would put the entire flock at risk. Antibiotics require a vet prescription and a strict withdrawal period is adhered to before the chicken is turned into food to ensure that no residual medications are present in the product.

McDonald’s has a global antibiotic policy. It is a policy that has been developed with the assistance of scientists and industry experts. Given that McDonald’s is required to process 90,000 birds per day in Canada alone to feed its customers, the company has a keen interest in making sure the industry is sustainable. The pre-emptive use of antibiotics is not allowed, nor does it allow sub-therapeutic use. Even the feedmills that produce the grains fed to chickens have to be accredited and constantly audited.

Hormones are illegal in Canada for use in chicken and in dairy.  This is due to the withdrawal period that is required.  There is not enough time for hormone elimination in milk and chickens. That’s why there are no hormones allowed. Beef has more time in withdrawal period and is therefore acceptable to use hormones before it is processed for meat production.

Q: People have asked me why there are so many ingredients in McNuggets and why the ingredients are so chemical-sounding?

A: McDonald’s is very careful about listing ingredients for allergy reasons and ingredients that could be bundled together are separated out to help people who may have an allergy.  Chemical names are used which might sound more complicated than they are (they say sodium bicarbonate instead baking soda, for instance).

For the full post on chicken please chick here.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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McDonald's Beef Questions and Answers

EAT, family meals By December 28, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2 Comments

As many of our readers know, our publisher was chosen as a McDonald’s All-Access Mom, to see behind the scenes at McDonald’s Canada.  Yes, the experience included meeting and moo-ing at a bunch of cows, as well as a potato farm, chicken plant, restaurant visit, Hamburger University and head office.  As part of a promise to answer all of our readers’ questions, we’re publishing a Q and A for each trip.  Here’s the beef.  (More beef jokes in the main article on the trip).

Q. Do they use hormones in what the cattle are fed?

A.  Some farmers decide to use hormonal growth proponents and this is a business decision.  For the farmers, there are costs associated with the hormones, and they must weigh the cost/benefit for their business.

Q.  What are hormonal growth promotants?

A.  Hormonal growth promotants are in the form of naturally occurring sex hormones which are administered to animals in order to improve an animal’s ability to use nutrients efficiently.  Health Canada has approved three natural hormones and three synthetically produced hormones for use in cattle in Canada.

Q.  What benefit is there to using hormones?

A.  When these are used, the animal uses its feed much more efficiently.  This means that the meat will contain more lean meat and less fat in the end.  There can be more growth using less feed, resulting in less expensive beef for the consumer.

Q.  How does the Canadian Government monitor the use of growth hormones?

A.  In addition to the strict requirements which must be met in order to obtain approval to sell, and to use, growth promoting hormones in Canada, Canada’s national food safety agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), conducts regular monitoring programs in which thousands of samples of all meat products are analyzed to ensure that any drug residues which remain in meat are well within lawful, and safe, limits. Results of these monitoring programs are published regularly by the CFIA. Since residue levels of the natural hormones in beef are in the same range in both treated and untreated animals, Canadian regulatory authorities have concluded that it is not necessary to establish so-called safe limits of the natural hormones.  CFIA monitors for residues of the synthetic hormones and Canadian regulations do not permit residues of any of the synthetic hormones to be present in meat. And year after year, Canadian beef has been in virtually 100 per cent compliance, that is, there are no residues in the beef.

Q.  What about bacteria, Mad Cow Disease (BSE) and E. coli?

A.  BSE control and testing happens both on the farm (sick-looking animals are isolated and tested) as well as at McDonald’s-approved primary meat processing (ie. slaughterhouse) suppliers.  Canada does 40 times more than the global standard in terms of BSE prevention. Now, feed bans exist where the food chain is even more protected from contamination.  Recent cases of BSE existed in older animals that were alive prior to the feed ban. In the last 3 years, there have been more than 100,000 animals tested with only 3 positives.

Beef is tested for E. coli 0157:H7 before it arrives at the facility.  Any beef that tests positive for E. coli 0157:H7 never goes back into the McDonald’s food chain. In addition, the Cargill facility tests the incoming beef again for 0157:H7 as well as other types of bacteria according to the McDonald’s food safety standards.  Quality checks and tests are also done on the finished patties. Test results on every batch of patties are seen prior to any box being released via the distribution networks.

Q.  How do you make sure employees don’t lose their temper with animals at all stages of the process?

A.  The CFIA has a Code of Practice related to animal welfare.  In addition, there is a certified livestock transport program created by the Alberta Farm association to ensure humane treatment of animals.  At the primary processing facilities, everyone who works there all go through animal welfare training. There is 3rd party video monitoring at all primary processing facilities.  This technology can detect sharp movements and employees are always held accountable.  If any facility ever fails an audit, McDonald’s may disapprove them as a supplier of beef.

Q.  Is meat washed with ammonia?

A.  No.  Ammonia is only present within the refrigeration system to cool down the meat and never comes into contact with the meat itself.  The refrigeration system used to run on Freon and it is now run on ammonia.

For our publisher’s full article on McDonald’s beef, please see the All-Access Microsite.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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The Final McDonald's All-Access Mom Trip

charity, FAM By November 27, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , 3 Comments

About to take off on my final journey I am quite sad, actually.  The whole experience as a McDonald’s All-Access Mom has been transformative, but not in any of the ways I expected.  Sure – lots of questions have been answered, I’ve traipsed around farms and plants (check out the videos), and worn way too many un-sexy lab coats.  But I also feel like a better mom.  A better citizen.  The corporate culture of McDonald’s and its suppliers is much friendlier – much more transparent, than I was expecting.  After almost 6 years of momm-ing, I think I’ve gotten a bit too insular.  Charity work had lapsed and a disconnection to the world and it’s news had set in.  The opportunity to participate in the MAAM program has helped change that.

I am most excited about seeing the Ronald McDonald House Charities.  Giving back.  Sharing.  Helping. These charities give homes and home cooked meals to families whose children are hospitalized with severe illness.  I will be spending a full day with the children and families involved in the London, Ontario house, learning about the program and more importantly, the people.  I hope that I can take the lessons of charity and giving back to my own children and incorporate them into our daily lives.  I know there has been criticism of the All-Access-Mom program, but this is an opportunity to get a glimpse into something that nobody could say McDonald’s doesn’t do really well.

The second part of the trip?  Chicken at the London, Ontario Cargill facility.  Shall I cluck like when I moo-ed at the cows?  Want to know the deal with the shaped McNuggets?  (I already asked about chicken lips and toenails getting into the mix.)  Nada.  Any other questions?  Reconstituted white meat?  Glue? Sawdust? Last chance!!

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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McDonald's Q & A: Potatoes and French Fries

EAT, family meals By November 8, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

As a rule, fries are not a healthy choice as a diet staple.  They’re filled with carbs and are usually deep fried.  But they are also a great source of potassium – 20 x more than a banana.   You’re not eating organic spinach here. But for those who want to order a ‘French Fry’, I will tell you what I witnessed.  They are real potatoes, and have few added ‘mystery’ ingredients.  I’m not forcing you to order them or wanting you to feed them to your children on a daily basis.  But when you do treat yourself (I have always considered them a huge treat, and I have always loved the taste), just know that you’re eating real food.

Q: What’s the relationship between the farmers and the manufacturers?

A:  McCain has a team of dedicated agronomists to assist the farmers in producing the best crop possible.  It is truly a mutually advantageous relationship.  Kind of like ‘happy wife, happy life’.  Happy farmer, happy McCain people, happy McDonald’s business units, happy customers. Or something.

Q: Are chemicals used at the farm level in growing potatoes?

A: The big lesson about pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers?  Farmers have to purchase the stuff themselves out of their own budgets.  Chemicals are expensive.  If there is an opportunity not to spend the money on chemicals, they will obviously opt not to.  The agronomists help the farmers to determine the point at which fertilizers are required.

There are currently two programs in place that are part of McDonald’s specification that apply to safety and social responsibility for potatoes. One is the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit, which through a number of established and documented surveys and audits assures the growers are meeting food safety, specific agricultural practices, and socially responsible people practices.

The second program, established in 2010, is the IPM/ICM (Integrated Pest Management and Integrated Crop Management) survey. This program assesses the use of various practices including approaches to minimize and optimize the use of any input from pesticide, fertilizer, and water.  There will be a quiz on this later.

 

The chemicals used on McDonald’s potato crops must be approved for use in Canada, the USA and any other country to which the fries may be shipped.  The levels need to be at or below the Maximum Residue Level of these countries.

Q: What’s up with the Youtube video where the fries never get moldy?

A:  Quite simply, the fries are so thin and contain so little moisture after being put through the dryer, there is not enough water contained within to assist in decomposition.  Further in the process, the flash frying and instantaneous freezing, and then at the restaurant level popping the fries immediately into the canola fry oil does not offer any opportunity for moisture to creep into the fry.  Believe me.  We saw what would happen if the process wasn’t followed and the result were grey/black fries that decomposed and stunk like old lunches in a high school locker.

Q: What ingredients are in the par fry oil?

A: The par fry oil is made up of canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, safflower oil, natural vegetable flavor, citric acid, TBHQ (a preservative) and dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent).

TBHQ is a highly effective antioxidant. In foods, it is used as a preservative for unsaturated vegetable oils and many edible animal fats.  The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada have all evaluated TBHQ and determined that it is safe to consume at the concentration allowed in foods.

Dimethylpolysiloxane is considered to be an inert, non-toxic, non-flammable ingredient used as a matter of safety to keep the oil from foaming and boiling over.   A review of animal studies by The World Health Organization (the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) found no adverse health effects associated with dimethylpolysiloxane.  (I LOVE saying that word).

The amount of both these ingredients is minimal in the oil and the amount of oil absorbed by the French fries makes it even safer.

Q: What tests and systems of check and balance are in place to ensure quality?

A: First, the ‘test kitchen’.  Every 30 minutes, one bag is removed from the line, analyzed for colour, diversity of size, blemishes and taste.  There is actually an identical frying station to those found in McDonald’s restaurants and fries are sampled every 30 minutes to check quality.  If there are too many spots or anything wrong, the whole system is shut down. I can say the fries I ate in this room – made from potatoes we’d seen harvested in the field the day before – were the absolute best I’d ever tasted.

In addition, there are metal scanners at the final stage before boxing the fries, so if a machine drops a widget or an employee’s gold tooth actually falls out into the line, the bag is rejected.

Q: Are the fries vegetarian-friendly?

A: This one was answered in my previous Q and A found here.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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McDonald’s All Access Moms on Cityline

FAM, self By October 26, 2011 Tags: , , No Comments

Wanna see the first bits of the Mom’s discoveries on McDonald’s?  Watch Cityline on Wednesday, October 26th to see Nanny Robina, Jill Amery, Maureen Dennis and Tenille Lafontaine as we investigate the myths surrounding one of the world’s largest corporations.  For our writing on the discoveries, please refer to the McDonald’s All Access Mom Microsite.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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Next Stop For the McDonald's All Access Moms: Alberta Beef

EAT, family meals By October 24, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , 3 Comments

The next stop on the McDonald’s All-Access Mom journey is to the Cargill beef facility and cattle farms near Edmonton, Alberta.  (Apparently 100% of the beef used by McDonald’s in Canada is Canadian).  Packed: thigh-high stilletto boots.  Watching: Food Inc.  Refraining from: Cow-tipping jokes.

Please ask your questions about burgers, beef and cows below.  As always, I promise to ask them all.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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