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It's Time to Talk About Fast Food

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Almost everybody is partial to a little fast food once in a while. A bag of chips might relieve some stress after a long, exhausting day at work whilst a chicken chow mein is absolutely necessary for a night in with a movie. A trip to McDonalds after a lengthy shopping spree never fails to satisfy salivating taste buds and a donar kebab is the perfect way to end a night out on the town.

Whatever the reason, all have indulged in fast food at some point; this isn't a bad thing at all, as long as it's consumed in moderation and the food is prepared in a hygienic workplace, which raises the question - how much do we actually know about the preparation process behind our takeaways?

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Yum Brands, who own KFC and Pizza Hut, have recently reported a drop in profits due to a food safety scare in China. An outbreak of bird flu has dramatically hurt sales, which were down 26% in the first quarter. However, the outbreak was just part of the problem for Yum, who came under the spotlight in December following allegations they injected antiviral drugs and growth hormones in to chickens beyond food safety limits. With a huge brand such as Yum disregarding food safety, it begs to question how strict smaller fast food businesses are with regard to safety and hygiene.

A report from Concrete, a student newspaper based in Norwich, in March 2013, found that local fast food restaurants had appalling hygiene standards. It was reported that of the 153 establishments in the city, most carried a 2/5 hygiene rating. One outlet had a fridge with a temperature of 14 degrees Celsius whilst another stored ready to eat salads alongside raw meat, which can result in cross contamination. Additionally, it was found that there was no soap or towel for staff members and that surfaces were not being wiped down frequently. It is unlikely that such outlets had any Food Safety Training in Norfolk, although it was later reported that ratings began to improve in subsequent inspections.

With such safety concerns being raised both globally and locally, we must ask whether fast food is good at any time. The debate surrounding the nutritional contents of fast food will rumble on, so long as healthier options exist. Presuming that consumers are aware that fast food is almost always not going to be as healthy as a home cooked meal, why do people still consume fast food, and should we encourage even less consumption?

Part of the problem lies in marketing and advertising. Some fast food chains such as McDonalds target the younger consumer due to the fact that 'specific branding can alter young children's taste preferences.' A vibrant Ronald McDonald will appeal to children, meaning they're more likely to enjoy McDonalds because of its association with fun. It's almost worrying that McDonalds was the most recognised brand in a study of 3-to-5 year old children. By getting children on board early, McDonalds instigate a lifelong loyalty without even mentioning nutritional standards.

The second part lies with the parents of the said children. Children may recognise the McDonalds brand, but it's unlikely they will be able to purchase fast food themselves at such a young age. This is not to say that it is bad parenting to treat a young child to a Happy Meal, but substituting healthy meals for fast food is not a recipe for well being. The Daily Express noted that 50% of families consume fast food at least once a week, with 20% feasting on takeaways three times a week. With parents busy with their career, it's easy to see how convenient fast food becomes, but with 28% of five year olds in Wales overweight, fast food consumption becomes a slippery slope.

There's almost no escaping fast food; as mentioned, everybody is likely to enjoy a greasy burger every now and then, but overt consumption needs to be nipped in the bud before it becomes a bigger problem. With cause for concern regarding hygiene standards and a greater worry surrounding the effect of fast food consumption on young children, a home made ham salad baguette is most definitely a better option than a footlong Subway (and cheaper too!)