Episode 9 Watchdog Test House


Episode 9

Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money.


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Transcript


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Take a look around your home.

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Can you be sure that every appliance is safe?

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Is everything a company tells you about a product true?

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And are you getting the best value for your money?

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With the help of the country's top experts, we're going to see

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what it takes to test the household products we use every day.

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We'll discover how they're pushed to their limits.

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We'll put the makers' claims on trial...

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..and show you how to make your money go further.

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You'll find these products in any ordinary house

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but this is no ordinary house and no ordinary street.

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This is the Watchdog Test House.

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Hello.

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We're deep inside one of Britain's leading science centres.

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Here at the Building Research Establishment,

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some of the products and materials that we use every day

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are put to the test to make sure that they're safe,

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environmentally friendly and that they don't fall apart.

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Coming up on today's programme...

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Beware of what you eat from abroad.

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I ran to the bathroom

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and I spent probably the next 36 hours either in bed

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or the bathroom, literally thinking I was going to die.

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We're out with the Port Health Authority,

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the front line for the safety of food products coming into the UK.

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When we're talking about the size of containers

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and the potential problems for illness,

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it really is quite enormous.

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HDMI cables - they connect your TV to your DVD player

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but are you paying over the odds?

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It would be a guess between the two, so I'm going to plump for the left.

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And the development of the baby buggy.

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Imagine that this carrot is a child's finger.

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As the frame collapses,

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you might pull on the handle to stop that happening.

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It's not been an easy ride

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but are we any closer to ensuring all children are safe?

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Now, from tea bags to takeaways, we come into contact

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with ingredients from other countries every day,

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all of which must comply with our hygiene and safety rules.

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But with billions of pounds worth of imported food coming in every month,

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testing everything is impossible

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and harmful products can get through.

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This was the Street Spice Festival in Newcastle,

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held between 28th February and 2nd March in 2013.

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An estimated 12,000 people from across the region attended

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the event, including young mum Jennifer Jennings.

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It was really busy. People seemed really excited.

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You had to queue quite a bit to buy anything,

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so we walked around a couple of times and then sort

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of the atmosphere, people were just really happy

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and having a good few drinks.

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But what started as a good day out turned into a nightmare.

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We went for the savoury pancake.

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The next day, I turned to my mum and said that I wasn't feeling too well,

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and then I ran to the bathroom

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and I spent probably the next 36 hours either in bed

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or the bathroom, literally thinking I was going to die. It was

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horrific. I've never felt pain like it, apart from when I was in labour.

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29 people at the Spice Festival were later diagnosed with

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Salmonella poisoning,

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25 of whom had a strain never before seen in humans in the UK.

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Further analysis suggested that other organisms, including

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E. coli and Shigella, may have also been present.

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I found out from a letter from Environmental Health saying that

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it was Salmonella that they'd found, to do with the curry leaves

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that were within the chutney on the side of the pancakes.

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When, obviously, disclosed that it was faecal germs,

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I wasn't too impressed.

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This was one of the largest outbreaks of gastro-intestinal

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illness associated with herbs or spices in the UK.

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But the bigger concern was whether there was enough understanding

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amongst food handlers in general about the potential

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for infection when using these products raw.

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On this occasion, no action was taken.

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It really bothers me that the leaves, obviously, were imported,

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and that it wasn't checked. With having a four-year-old, she's...

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If she'd been with me, she would have eaten exactly the same

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things and it could have been a lot worse for her.

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Imported food - that's any food coming into this country

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from outside the European Union - is governed by the

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European Food Safety Regulations, and it's the local authorities

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and the Port Health authorities that are responsible for policing them.

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Regular checks on food at the point of import are in place across

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the UK and food that doesn't comply may be seized, tested and destroyed.

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We're the front line for food safety of products

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coming into the UK and the European Union.

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When we're talking about the size of containers

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and the potential problems for illness,

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it really is quite enormous.

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Sandra and her team carry out daily checks on consignments that

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arrive into one of the UK's biggest ports, Southampton.

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In the past, we've stopped anything from noodles containing

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aluminium, cooked prawns containing Salmonella, nuts,

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dried fruit containing aflatoxins and sometimes illegal products from

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countries that are not permitted to export to the European Union.

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There is a whole range of products now today that arrived

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either this morning or yesterday, and they will be inspected

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and sampled before they go into the country.

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Inspections take place in clean environments to make

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sure there is no cross-contamination. Suited up,

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Sandra starts on the first consignment -

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a product that needs checking before being allowed through the port.

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Liam here's got a container from Japan,

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and following Fukushima, there is a need to sample for radiation,

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so we sample...

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I think it's 5% of any Japanese products that come through.

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These samples are packaged and sent off.

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Next up, a shipment of Canadian seafood is being scrutinised.

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We have shrimp and lobster, beautifully packaged,

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beautifully presented. I will do a sample.

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The lobsters are sent to the laboratory as part

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of a regular check for any microbiological contamination.

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Sandra has concerns about some apple snails,

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a Vietnamese delicacy being imported to the UK.

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We are going to look for the cooked apple snail

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because we've tested this product previously and we've found

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Escherichia coli, a dangerous microbial pathogen, in there.

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Samples collected, the next task is to send them

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back to the lab for analysis.

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We'll bring you the results of those tests later in the programme,

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when we'll also be heading to Kent, where Trading Standards officers

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are carrying out an investigation into potentially dangerous

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food products that have already found their way onto the shelves.

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You've bought a brand-new TV and a flash new DVD player

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to watch your favourite TV shows and films in high-definition.

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But which cable should you buy to connect the two devices

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to ensure you get the best possible picture and sound?

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Well, you can pay £3.99 or £89.99. So which do you choose?

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Now, I'm no film buff, Sophie,

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but when I watch a movie on TV, I don't want this.

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I want this -

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pin-sharp pictures and perfect stereo sound.

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And if that film's playing through a DVD player, Blu-ray or games

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console, you're going to need one of these in order to get it -

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a High-Definition Multimedia Interface,

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more commonly known as an HDMI cable.

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With so many cables on the market offering

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everything from 24-Carat gold-plated connectors to V-Grip

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technology, how do I know which one's the best to buy?

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What you want is the best possible quality picture

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and really crystal clear-sound.

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The shop is saying you need an expensive cable to link the two

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together to achieve those things.

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Do you really need that cable?

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Let's find out.

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Yes, we're taking our Test House to the movies. The audience?

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11 avid movie fans each belonging to local film clubs.

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For the purposes of our test, we've connected up one of these

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televisions with one of the most expensive HDMI cables we could find.

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It costs £89.99 and claims to have gold-plated connectors

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and give the purest images.

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On the other television, we've used the cheapest we could find -

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a £3.99 cable.

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Everything else is identical - identical TVs,

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Blu-ray players and Blu-ray Discs.

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We're not going to tell our fans which screen is which,

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so they'll have to judge for themselves.

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Hopefully, the more expensive one will give more clarity of image

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throughout and also more clarity of sound.

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You sort of think, well, more expensive is going to be better,

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but I'll sort of reserve judgment, somewhat.

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You would expect the more expensive cable to be better quality,

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sharper, brighter.

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Next, to reveal what film we'll be showing.

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For these fanatics, it's got to be nothing but the best.

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In fact, it's considered by some to be greatest movie ever made.

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Rosebud.

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No, not that one. This one - Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

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THEY GROAN

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Well, if you are going to watch anyone in full HD,

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it might as well be Angelina Jolie.

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Right, let's get started.

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We show our film fans a range of scenes, including live action

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to test the picture and dialogue scenes to test the sound.

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Which one will they think is connected with the more

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-expensive cable?

-Can I look closer?

-Yeah.

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I can't distinguish between the visuals at all.

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It's almost impossible to say which is better.

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I don't know if we've really heard the footsteps as clear as this one.

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I can't hear the difference. Maybe you've got better hearing than me!

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It would be a guess between the two, so I'm going to plump for the left.

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The expensive cable might be on the screen on the right.

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I picked the one on the right.

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I really can't tell the difference between the two.

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Mixed opinions all round. Two chose the left screen,

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six chose the right screen

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and three of our film buffs couldn't spot any difference between the two.

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So which one was it? Could you tell at home?

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Find out later.

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Prams and buggies. Anyone with small children needs one.

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And it's become quite an industry, with parents spending more

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than £200 million on them every year.

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And these sleek new designs have certainly come a long way

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since the first fully foldable pushchair was launched in the 1960s.

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But that doesn't mean things don't go wrong today,

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as Lynn Faulds Wood knows all too well.

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'Welcome to Watchdog. In tonight's programme...

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'All these people have written to us...'

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Imagine that this carrot is a child's finger.

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As the frame collapses,

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you might pull on the handle to stop that happening.

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It's been a bumpy road for our baby buggies.

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I was banging on about them in the 1980s and decades later,

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they were still featuring on Watchdog.

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I was walking to me mum's house and as I bumped down a curb

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to cross the road, the pram just completely snapped.

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So why are we still talking about buggy safety today?

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After all, it's not as if we haven't had plenty of time to

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get them right.

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The first pram was actually developed in the 18th century

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but it wasn't till the end of the 19th

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that they began to be mass-produced.

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This pram, on sale in the 1880s, was one of the first to allow

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babies to lie down.

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The first thing we notice is that, actually,

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they did care about safety because there are straps but

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they don't look desperately sensible and I don't think much thought

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has been given to the way they would actually work once you've got

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the child there. But the other thing you immediately notice is no brakes.

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So if you stopped with this on the side of a hill,

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you were really in trouble.

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This model might look like it's from a Batman film,

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but by the 1920s, prams were made deeper to stop babies falling out.

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Doctors were advising that children got more fresh air,

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so more time in the garden in their pram, more walks, and people felt

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that children should be both more secure in the pram and warmer.

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For the first time, prams were being built with a basic

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brake as well as a handy brolly holder!

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But by the 1960s, there were concerns that a deep body design

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could actually smother a child.

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# Baby love

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# My baby love... #

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So they went away back to the more or less Edwardian, late Victorian

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idea of a shallower body, which was higher up in the air.

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We also have a foot-operated brake round at the front

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which is much easier to operate.

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The '60s also saw the introduction of the first

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technical safety standard, in '67.

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Stability was very important so that the child did not have

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the ability to make the product fall over.

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Harnessing and retention of the child in the product was also

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very important. The other major issue in those days was braking.

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But the old style pram had had its day.

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In the 1960s, Maclaren introduced the first fully foldable pushchair.

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And by Jubilee year in 1977,

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the company was turning out 20,000 a week.

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# God save the Queen... #

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Now buggies would have to balance the need for safety

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with the need for convenience and portability.

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So standards were expanded to cover these new, smaller, folding

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pushchairs and the risks potentially caused by moving and foldable parts.

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The most common concern?

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So-called finger traps.

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As Watchdog exposed in 1989, some children had lost

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parts of their fingers in this Mothercare pushchair.

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The locking device is right here,

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where a child might rest his hands on it or they could play with

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these lovely, jangly safety rings and the whole thing can collapse.

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Now, if that happens, you can grab on the handle to stop it

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collapsing and here's how bits of the finger have got chopped off,

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if I use that carrot as a finger.

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Mothercare changed that faulty design.

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But as European standards require the agreement of all member

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countries, with new models coming onto the market all the time,

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it can be hard for safety organisations to keep up.

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There are so many developments because everybody is trying to

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give the consumer what they want and the consumer these days wants

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ease of use - to get on buses, to get on trains, to get in cars,

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and therefore, that leaves the standards people

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lagging behind all the time.

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We cannot keep pace with modern developments.

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But even when a product does meet high safety standards

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before it goes on the market, it doesn't mean things can't go wrong.

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The baby buggy maker Maclaren is at the centre of a safety scare.

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It's had to issue urgent advice

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and repair kits for around a million pushchairs in America.

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It follows reports that 12 children had to undergo

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amputations after getting their fingertips caught in the hinges.

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Days later, Maclaren agreed to issue the same special

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covers for the buggy's hinges in the UK.

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Then, three years later, it was Cosatto's turn

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to take action on a small number of their products.

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This is one of their most popular models. It's called the Giggle.

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Except, what follows isn't the least bit funny.

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After Watchdog investigated their Giggle in 2013,

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Cosatto issued a safety notice on a faulty bracket,

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causing some buggies to collapse.

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The worst thing is, what if he'd been a little bit younger?

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He could have literally come out the pram.

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This time, the fault was due to a manufacturing problem and the

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smallish numbers of products affected are no longer on sale.

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After Watchdog's report, Cosatto agreed customers

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could return their pushchairs to be strengthened at no extra cost.

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From improving testing standards to putting right design flaws

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and manufacturing faults, it's fair to say

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that when there is a problem, the industry does work hard to fix it.

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So will that be the last we hear about the safety of our buggies?

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It is very difficult to guarantee anything is 100% safe.

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Is your car door 100% safe for children's fingers?

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Is your door in the house 100% safe with fingers?

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It's impossible.

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We try, within standardisation, to cover as many areas as we can

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and we try very, very hard to make the products as safe as possible.

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With petrol and diesel costing as much as £1.50 a litre,

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you might be thinking it's time to go green and go electric.

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With no tax, no costly fuel and free parking in certain areas,

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it is tempting but these cars are expensive.

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So does it work out in the end?

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With me now is Emma Butcher, from What Car?

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So as far as electric cars are concerned,

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how much are they nowadays?

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Well, you're looking at around £25,000 for an entry-level electric

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car on average, and that includes a £5,000 grant from the government.

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So they're not cheap.

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You're probably looking at about double the price

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for a similar-sized petrol car.

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But in terms of the price, as the technology improves,

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-do you think that the cost will go down?

-Absolutely.

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So the biggest cost of an electric car is the battery.

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Battery manufacturers reckon that by about 2020, we could see those

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costs halved, so electric car costs will come down significantly.

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Obviously, it's green, it helps the environment,

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but do you get your money back?

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For the right lifestyle, they can be a really fantastic choice,

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so they're much cheaper to fuel, obviously, than a standard fuel car.

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If you charge overnight,

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if you have that facility to do that at home,

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you're looking at about £1.50 for a full battery charge, then you're also

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looking at reduced servicing costs because there are fewer moving parts.

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You don't have to have oil filters changed and things like that.

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-So yeah, the savings can really stack up.

-What about longer journeys?

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How far can you go in an electric car?

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Well, we reckon that you're probably looking at a range

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of about 90 miles in good weather.

0:19:380:19:40

In the winter, the range drops to about 60 miles,

0:19:400:19:43

-so you need to be careful.

-You've driven them. Are they good to drive?

0:19:430:19:46

They're fantastic to drive.

0:19:460:19:48

The torque is instant, there are no gears to interrupt power

0:19:480:19:51

and it's just so quiet and smooth.

0:19:510:19:52

-Yeah, a really good experience.

-Emma, thank you.

0:19:520:19:55

Earlier, we looked at the cables at the back of our TVs.

0:20:000:20:03

We asked some film fanatics

0:20:030:20:05

to watch a film in high-definition on two screens.

0:20:050:20:09

One was connected with an expensive cable, the other with a cheap one.

0:20:090:20:13

Could they tell the difference? Time to find out.

0:20:130:20:16

Yes, one cable cost £89.99, the other just £3.99.

0:20:180:20:22

As for the 11 film fanatics,

0:20:220:20:25

two thought the left screen was connected by the expensive cable,

0:20:250:20:28

six chose the right screen

0:20:280:20:30

and three of our film fans couldn't spot any difference between the two.

0:20:300:20:34

So which one was it?

0:20:340:20:36

Although most of our fans chose the screen on the right,

0:20:360:20:39

the expensive cable was actually connecting the one on the left.

0:20:390:20:42

-Wow!

-I'm just shocked.

0:20:420:20:44

It's quite surprising that the one on the left is supposedly

0:20:440:20:48

the better quality one

0:20:480:20:50

-because I thought it was just slightly the one on the right.

-Wow!

0:20:500:20:54

Yeah, not worth it!

0:20:550:20:56

We all preferred the right one, the cheaper one!

0:20:560:20:59

So why did our film buffs find it so hard to work out which was which?

0:21:000:21:04

Time to get technical.

0:21:040:21:06

So let's look at the wave forms that are actually sent down our cables.

0:21:060:21:11

Now, these are digital wave forms and a wave form that's sent

0:21:110:21:14

digitally looks a bit like castle battlements. It will go up and

0:21:140:21:18

down and up and down and maybe down for a bit and then up for a bit.

0:21:180:21:23

So no matter how expensive the cable, as long as it's made of metal

0:21:230:21:26

and it conducts electricity, that signal will be transferred.

0:21:260:21:30

And although a more expensive cable benefits from being stronger

0:21:300:21:33

and more robust,

0:21:330:21:34

if a signal did become distorted by a faulty connection

0:21:340:21:37

or a damaged wire, according to Professor Webb, your TV would

0:21:370:21:41

still deliver exactly the same picture and sound.

0:21:410:21:44

Now, clearly, it's different from the one at the top

0:21:440:21:47

but equally, we can work out what it should have been just by looking

0:21:470:21:50

at it, and a television can do the same.

0:21:500:21:53

But with even the cheapest cable very unlikely to do this,

0:21:530:21:57

do you really get better picture or sound if you pay extra?

0:21:570:22:00

Absolutely not. There's no need for a more expansive cable.

0:22:000:22:04

As long as the signal gets from one end of the cable to the other,

0:22:040:22:08

everything is fine.

0:22:080:22:09

And that works perfectly well, as long as the cable

0:22:090:22:12

is a conductor of electricity.

0:22:120:22:14

He's not just saying that, you know. He can prove it, too.

0:22:140:22:17

First, he cuts the wires inside this HDMI cable

0:22:170:22:20

that carry the picture image.

0:22:200:22:22

So here, we have a cable that is working. We can see a picture

0:22:220:22:25

and if I now let these two ends fall apart, away it goes.

0:22:250:22:30

He then inserts a number of different metal objects

0:22:300:22:33

into the gap to see if the signal still transmits.

0:22:330:22:36

First, a gold ring.

0:22:360:22:37

So let's take our cut wire...

0:22:370:22:39

..and put the two ends onto different parts of the wedding ring.

0:22:400:22:44

There we go. So that signal is travelling through my wedding ring

0:22:440:22:50

on its way to the television.

0:22:500:22:52

Next, a steel barbecue skewer.

0:22:520:22:55

If I touch up these two leads, there we have it.

0:22:550:23:00

A kebab stick is carrying our TV signal!

0:23:000:23:03

OK. Well, those were solid metal.

0:23:030:23:06

What about something that isn't even solid metal?

0:23:060:23:08

So here's a little bit of kitchen foil, metal kitchen foil.

0:23:090:23:15

Let's see if we can get our signal to pass through the foil.

0:23:150:23:19

And look! The picture has come back again.

0:23:200:23:23

OK. We're convinced.

0:23:230:23:24

As long as your HDMI cable conducts electricity

0:23:240:23:27

and has been bought from a reputable source, the picture quality

0:23:270:23:30

and sound quality will always be the same. But what about

0:23:300:23:33

the other benefits, some of the more expensive cables offer?

0:23:330:23:37

Well, the manufacturer of the expensive cable told us

0:23:370:23:40

their product is built to exceed industry standards, is supported

0:23:400:23:43

by a limited lifetime warranty and contains premium materials

0:23:430:23:47

to ensure reliability and performance for the life of the product.

0:23:470:23:50

The more expensive ones tend to work, even if they're mistreated.

0:23:520:23:56

So unless you're the person that goes about and enjoys tying

0:23:560:23:59

knots in their cables, a cheap HDMI cable will do the job perfectly

0:23:590:24:04

well for you and there's no need for one of these - the expensive items.

0:24:040:24:08

Earlier, we saw how in Southampton, the Port Health Authority

0:24:130:24:17

stop and check shipments on a daily basis to make sure the food

0:24:170:24:21

being brought into the country is safe to eat.

0:24:210:24:23

They sent off various samples to the lab for testing.

0:24:230:24:26

A few days later, the results are in.

0:24:260:24:29

The samples included some apple snails, a Vietnamese delicacy.

0:24:300:24:35

So what we do when we receive the food

0:24:350:24:37

is we first of all have to take out a sample and mush it up.

0:24:370:24:41

Bacteria aren't going to just jump off the snails

0:24:410:24:43

and onto the agar plate. We've got to release them

0:24:430:24:46

from the food into a format that we can test on agar plates.

0:24:460:24:49

Agar plates are used to help grow bacteria.

0:24:490:24:51

If there's any present, it will soon reveal itself.

0:24:510:24:54

We literally mash the snails up with some liquid,

0:24:540:24:57

which releases the bacteria, and we can then take that liquid

0:24:570:25:00

and put it onto agar plates.

0:25:000:25:02

And then those agar plates will go into incubators,

0:25:020:25:05

sometimes for a day, if it's things that grow quickly, sometimes

0:25:050:25:08

for five days or more for slow-growing bacteria

0:25:080:25:11

and other organisms.

0:25:110:25:13

And then we get them out and have a look at them.

0:25:140:25:16

The team then tested the plates for Salmonella and E. coli -

0:25:160:25:20

bacteria that could cause food poisoning.

0:25:200:25:23

On this occasion, both these tests proved negative.

0:25:230:25:26

So when we looked at all the results we've got from the apple snail

0:25:260:25:29

testing together, we don't feel that any of them

0:25:290:25:32

indicate a significant problem for public health, particularly

0:25:320:25:35

when you take into account the apple snails are due to be cooked.

0:25:350:25:39

So we're happy with the results we've obtained for these samples.

0:25:390:25:43

With the Canadian prawns, lobsters and Japanese tea

0:25:430:25:46

we saw earlier also testing negative for any dangers to health,

0:25:460:25:50

it's good news for the importers. The shipments have passed

0:25:500:25:53

Port Authority checks and are safe to move into the market

0:25:530:25:56

and be consumed.

0:25:560:25:58

Meanwhile, Trading Standards officers in Kent are investigating

0:25:580:26:01

another imported food product suspected of being dangerous

0:26:010:26:05

that's already made it onto the shelves.

0:26:050:26:07

Today I'm heading to a shop to follow up a sample

0:26:070:26:11

of some cornflour, which we recently had tested

0:26:110:26:15

as it had... Excess levels of aflatoxins were found in it.

0:26:150:26:19

Aflatoxins are linked to cancer, so I'm just heading back

0:26:210:26:27

to the shop to take another sample for the laboratory.

0:26:270:26:30

Alex arrives at the store to seize the second sample

0:26:300:26:33

of potentially carcinogenic cornflour.

0:26:330:26:36

Alex wastes no time finding the items he's got concerns about.

0:26:370:26:41

All these are from the same batch of cornmeal, so they're all

0:26:410:26:44

processed at the same time, so I'll sample all three of these bags.

0:26:440:26:49

As Alex bags and tags the products, the owner arrives on site.

0:26:500:26:54

With the paperwork complete, Alex pays for the goods

0:26:540:26:57

and takes them to the lab for testing.

0:26:570:26:59

OK. Thank you. Bye.

0:27:010:27:03

Aflatoxins themselves are a very, very potent carcinogen in terms

0:27:070:27:11

of it affecting the liver and that's why the legislative limits are set

0:27:110:27:15

at two parts per billion parts of food,

0:27:150:27:17

so it's a very, very low level.

0:27:170:27:19

The cornflour is separated, weighed out

0:27:200:27:23

and mixed with a solution to strip out any toxins present.

0:27:230:27:27

We can measure individual toxin concentrations and give a total

0:27:270:27:30

and we can then compare those results against the legislative

0:27:300:27:33

limits to determine whether it passes or fails.

0:27:330:27:36

And this is the machine that does the calculations.

0:27:360:27:39

It analyses the toxins present...

0:27:390:27:41

..and displays the results on a graph.

0:27:480:27:50

The peaks show the levels of aflatoxin present.

0:27:500:27:52

So unfortunately, I've had the test report

0:27:520:27:55

and it's shown that there are excess levels of aflatoxin

0:27:550:27:57

in the sampled cornmeal.

0:27:570:28:00

The next course of action would be to notify

0:28:000:28:02

the importer of the result

0:28:020:28:04

and also the Food Standards Agency.

0:28:040:28:05

The likely course of action - this product will be

0:28:050:28:08

withdrawn from the market while we continue with our investigations.

0:28:080:28:11

The cornflour is now the subject of an investigation

0:28:110:28:15

and proceedings are ongoing.

0:28:150:28:16

Hopefully, that's one potentially harmful product you

0:28:160:28:20

won't need to worry about seeing on the shelves in the future.

0:28:200:28:23

If you want more information on the safety of products

0:28:280:28:31

in your home, you can go to our website.

0:28:310:28:33

That's all for today. Thanks for watching.

0:28:390:28:41

Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money. Lynn Faulds Wood looks at the safety of products in the home and the Watchdog campaigns that have been saving lives for more than 30 years.


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