|>>|| No. 11075
The factory I worked in was in the Midlands and I believe one of the largest of its kind in the country. We made sandwiches for Tesco, Ginsters and some M&S lines too. There is no difference in quality between the Tesco and M&S ingredients; call the price difference a middle class tax.
Cooked chicken breasts came in 10kg polythene bags that were defrosted overnight. All of it came from Thailand and was between 12 to 18 months old. I remember this distinctly because it made no sense to me then, nor does it now, how the refridgeration and transport costs could possibly come out cheaper than simply purchasing local, fresh chicken. The Ginsters chicken stood out because instead of the usual white colour is was that somewhat purplish tone usually associated with inner thigh or drumstick meat. They were also uniquely stingy in their requirements and their fare would contain only around 60% the chicken you'd get in an equivalent Tesco sandwich. And less mayo. And less bacon, if it was included. Bacon incidentally also came pre-cooked and frozen, months old from various sources in Poland and sometimes Denmark.
It was a very interesting experience and for the record it didn't put me off chicken sandwiches for good. Cheapo ham sandwiches however are another matter. I've always been a bit iffy about processed meats despite my dearth of Inuit heritage and seeing it being prepared in the pink (as it were) has given me a firm and lifelong aversion.
Ham came in square cylinders - shut up, you know what I mean - of about two feet in length. While there are an exotic variety of slicing machines for other meats and cheeses in a separate preperatory room, ham was unique in that it was taken directly to the production line to be inserted into its own apparatus which straddled the conveyor belt. Fed in from above, said device would rock from side to side as it deposited wafer-thin folds like a slimy, haram Vienetta with a noise that somehow rose above the general cacophany of a busy factory floor. Two glistening, wobbling appendages, eerily fluorescent and of uncertain compostion slowly being devoured by this awkward, banging contraption. It was reminiscent of a child's depiction of a naked man drowning, or at least being fed into a very lazy woodchipper. No thanks.
You might think getting tired of sandwiches would be a natural part of the job, and I imagine it was for old hands but by the time I arrived the canteen actually charged for the spare ones so I rarely ate them. This tight-fistedness was particularly galling as waste in the factory, while small relative to the amount of acceptable products, was more than enough to feed the staff ten times over in a given shift. Once the allocated quota of sandwiches had been boxed, any remaining finished or half-finished ones were discarded. Any boxed ones that were too far under or over the target weight were sent up to be eaten by staff. Having to pay near-market price for them was, frankly, a bit of an insult.
I don't recall anything off-putting about the other ingredients but this was some years ago at a particularly unhappy juncture of my life. It was an 80 minute trek to a job where almost everyone was from Asia or Eastern Europe and who split off into their own linguistic groups at breaktime. The few British employees were mostly management and far removed from the rest of us. The handful that worked alongside me had long formed their own clique, including the owner's son who rightfully was told he was to work his way up from the bottom. Though surely it's easier to slog your way through the drudgery of a production facility when you're safe in the mind that one day you'll be running the damn thing. So I was left alone, and unlike the majority of the people there who lived in the adjacent estate I took the last, long bus home by myself. The stop was by a 24-hour Tesco and I would pop in, review some of my handiwork with a grimace and head straight to the booze aisle to pick up a bottle of their Pimms knockoff for roughly an hour's wage. Just small enough to fit in a bag and get you pissed without being so strong you ending up retching after a few good swigs. Happy times.
All said, it wasn't a bad place to work. By no means was it The Jungle of Upton Sinclair. The food hygiene was enforced with military efficiency and to this day I'm convinced that most of the (vanishingly few) reports of hair being found in our food were from punters themselves who had hunched too far over their sandwiches. There was plenty of time to eat and you could use the toilet whenever you wanted. Only a handful of positions were physically strenuous and I'm sure cheflad would sneer at anyone who cared complain that the shifts were tough. Any hours over 8 were paid and a half, even if you'd only done half an hour. I never saw or heard of anyone upset with management or eachother. But I was a sad, miserable loner straight out of uni and predictably didn't last more than a few months after one too many 'late mornings'. I don't resent the place one bit.
But never again will I eat a Tesco ham & mustard sandwich.