As a Mum and a healthy foodie, I’m passionate about giving my baby, Finn, the best food possible. ‘Just eat real food (JERF)’. A saying I try to live by. But what about those days where I’ve been too busy to prepare a meal and we are rushing out the door to an appointment or we’ve reached meltdown around 5pm? Are there really any store bought baby foods that can live up to this? Apprehensive to trust store bought baby food, I took a trip to the Heinz Infant Food Factory in Echuca to investigate and today I am going to share with you what I learnt, along with the answers they had to the questions you sent through.
Introducing solid foods to Finn’s diet
I was about 5 months into life with Finn when he started showing interest in my food, so I decided it was time to start solids. Sounds simple enough right, just feed the kid real food! I wish it were this simple. I was all over breastfeeding and keeping this kid alive and now I needed to find more time in my day to prepare meals that probably wouldn’t be eaten anyway. I ended up making a habit of setting aside an afternoon to batch make food for Finn. But as every Mum knows, some days you miss the meal prep – then what? Well, der. You make it then and there with your screaming child in your arms *sarcasm*. Not so practical. I needed a back up plan.
The big dilemma – should I give my baby supermarket bought baby food?
Mum had been telling me about these Heinz Baby Food Jars that she used to have for us occasionally but I was all like, ‘MUM, I value real food. How would you even know what is in these jars?!’ and brushed it off. Then one day I was in sheer desperation bought a couple to try. I spoke to my dietitian reading out the ingredients list to her to ask her advice – ‘yeah that’s a great option for when you’re out, there’s nothing artificial in them and no preservatives’. So I used these occasionally when we were out or when I wasn’t organised in my meal preparation for Finn and really needed to get the ‘dinner, bath, bed’ ball rolling.
Curiosity remained – is Heinz Infant food really good for my baby?
I was still a little unsure and I figured I wasn’t the only first time Mum with concerns so I should write an informed blog post about it. How could I learn more than what is written on the packet? By seeing how it is made first hand!
A visit to the Heinz Infant Food Factory in Echuca
So Reis, Finn and I flew to Melbourne, hired a car and headed three hours out of the city to a picturesque little country town called Echuca where there is a factory that was purpose built for making Infant food.
Meeting the head honchos at the factory
I was surprised when I arrived to have a meeting with the Factory Manager, The Production Manager, The Quality Manager, The Maintenance Manager and the Research and Development Manager (this is Maree pictured below, her job is to design all the recipes for the products!). They did a presentation about the factory and answered some questions that I had (including the ones you guys sent through!). Then I was shown around the whole factory, having each step of the way explained to me and meeting the staff that worked there.
The things that shocked me in the factory tour
Recipes are developed by Maree and her team in a normal looking kitchen with a pantry and everything!
Secondly, the site is really just like a large-scale kitchen. Every piece of equipment is a bigger version of something we all use in our own home. To start, they source the ingredients required and weigh them out accurately, according to the individual recipe.
The ingredients are poured from tubs into big kettles (like a steam powered version of saucepan).
Inside they are mixed, steam cooked and pureed to ensure the appropriate texture and thickness for our babies then packed into pouches (and jars or cans) where the food is heat-sealed and the cooking process completed. What was surprisingly different to a real kitchen though was the cleanliness. When I cook my baby food at home, there are spots of spilt puree or vegetable skins and seeds on the bench. None of that here! Impressive.
The big questions I needed answered and their responses
If there are no preservatives what keeps the food safe to eat?
The heat seal naturally preserves the baby food eliminating the need to add any preservatives, similar to the method used when bottling fruit at home.
Are all of the ingredients you use fresh?
We use a mix of fresh, chilled, frozen and ambient ingredients in our recipes – each is selected to ensure optimal performance throughout the cooking process. All of the fresh vegetables that are supplied to our site are Australian sourced. They are peeled, washed and diced by local suppliers using Australian potable water.
We also use fresh chilled yoghurt, fresh minced meat, fruit purees (see the pureed mango in the picture above), dried herbs and spices (these are mostly imported as some are not available in Australia), frozen blueberries and corn & peas ( sourced from our New Zealand Heinz Watties facilities). We create our own pumpkin puree here on site, from fresh Australian grown butternut pumpkins.
What percentage of the produce is Australian?
During standard operation, approximately 70% of our ingredients are sourced from our network of Australian producers – located across Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
As we are dealing with natural agricultural products there are times where due to seasonality or a lack of availability in Australia, we need to source from one of our trusted global suppliers.
How do you make sure no bad bits of the vegetable get through the product? Do you top, tail and peel the vegetables?
Before they are delivered to our site, most of our other fresh vegetables have been washed, peeled & diced. Our suppliers wash the vegetables in fresh water, and a team of people inspects the end product to ensure no bad bits of vegetables get through.
Does this reduce the nutritional value of the fruit and veg in the product?
Both supermarket baby foods and homemade baby foods are exposed to high heat when cooked, but Heinz baby foods are only cooked for the minimum time necessary so as to maintain the goodness of the food.
Why don’t you make the chunks bigger in the older baby jars?
Each baby is so different in what they can handle at a given age and we have a duty of care to consider what’s best for all of our babies We offer an age guide, on pack to help ensure that babies can safely enjoy our products.
Editors note: This was a life saving lunch that kept Finn happy when we ran out of petrol on our way back to Canberra recently!
When you’re not being guided by the organic guidelines for the general baby food range, do you have guidelines for your suppliers around which pesticides they can /can’t use? What are the guidelines for suppliers around how they wash the vegetables (eg. temperature etc)?
Within the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code there is a clear list of maximum residue limits for all agricultural products – so food products grown or imported into Australia need to comply with these standards. We require our suppliers to provide testing results as evidence to show that they comply with these standards. The quality and safety of our baby products is important to us, so we audit our suppliers regularly to maintain these standards. Our suppliers are also independently inspected by third parties to ensure they are compliant with a range of quality certifications.
The safety of the ingredients
How do you make sure that no dangerous bits have fallen into a mix from the supplier of both the fresh produce and the jars?
Each jar along with the fresh produce is x-rayed. It also goes through numerous sieves and past magnets prior to being packaged to catch anything that shouldn’t be there, as well as bits of food that may be bigger than our babies can handle.
Recently, there was a scare with some supermarket Frozen Blueberries containing traces of Hep A. How are you ensuring that your products which use frozen goods are free from this?
Under Australian Food Standards requirements there is a standard for Thermal Inactivation of Hepatitis A Virus in Berries, which stipulates a minimum cook time and temperature to remove any risk of contamination. The Australian standard for the production of sterile shelf stable foods is much greater than the specifics related to berries, so the best control we have for any pathogen risk is our cooking process – by complying with the government requirements.
How do you make sure that your product remains consistent?
Our passionate team taste test and review our products every morning, to ensure they always match to our quality expectations.
Waste & Sustainability
If a batch goes wrong – what do you do with the waste? What about waste from the pumpkin scraps? Are your suppliers required to have policies on reusing this food too?
We always try our best to find a way to utilize any food waste that we can, and to work with supply partners who do the same. Sometimes that means donating finished products to charitable organisations, and in other cases it’s about finding avenues for our food scraps to be used as animal feed for pigs and other farm animals.
Who guides the nutritional elements of these products?
We work closely with dietitians and nutritionists to ensure our baby foods deliver a variety of age appropriate ingredients, flavours and textures.
Does Heinz offer products with low glycemic index carbohydrates in their meals (eg. brown rice, quinoa, brown pasta)?
A number of our jar meals include a mixture of brown rice – to provide variety and a thicker consistency suitable for babies. We have a quinoa recipe in our 170g jar range that tastes delicious – Chicken, Vegetables & Quinoa.
The stand out factor – the people
Seeing the heart of those who worked there and their passion to create quality, safe, nourishing and yummy food for our little ones was a golden highlight. Many of the workers had kids and were experiencing (or had experienced) the same dilemmas I had as a parent, which gave them a vested interest in what they were producing at their factory.
Supporting the economy of a country town
I was also gob smacked to find out that in wages (about 100 people at the factory, most who have worked there for over 10 years) and services (local farmers and contractors) Heinz contribute over $12million per annum to the local economy. Too often I drive through country towns that were once bustling and have now dwindled due to the lack of job opportunities, so this really warmed my heart.
Image via EchucaMoama.com
My thoughts after my visit to Heinz
I saw real food, a clean factory, staff that really cared and numerous quality control measures which increased my trust in the brand and I now feel confident using Heinz products. If you’re looking for something to supplement your baby’s meals when you’re out or when you’ve run out of time to prepare something I would recommend Heinz baby food as it is preserved through the steam cooking process and is filled with lots of Australian grown ingredients. So I think this really does pass my test of ‘just eat real food’ because I’ve seen first hand the real food that goes into them and that’s all that’s in there. As Heinz says it, clearly, honest food.
If you have any questions about my visit, please let me know in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them based on my visit to the factory.
This post is proudly sponsored by Heinz Australia. My thoughts and opinions are completely my own and were not influenced in any way. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Eat Pray Workout possible!