Documentary series. Gregg Wallace explores the Grimsby factory that processes 165 tonnes of fish a week and produces 80,000 cod fish fingers every day.
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They're a childhood favourite.
Over the next week,
we'll munch our way through 600,000 kg of fish fingers.
That's the equivalent of more than 1 billion of them a year.
Tonight, we're going to follow the journey of fish finger production.
From the depths of the Atlantic Ocean...
..To the meal on your plate.
It's a process that relies on dozens of skilled hands.
And they're all working away in here.
I'm Gregg Wallace.
That is somebody's tea.
And I'll be finding out how the fingers are formed.
Oh, it's really hot on the outside and it's frozen in the middle.
I'm Cherry Healey,
and I'll be getting stuck in at the start of the production line.
This is a real biology lesson.
And I'll be discovering the secrets of smoked fish.
And historian Ruth Goodman reveals the origin of this traditional tea-time food.
This isn't quite what I was expecting.
In the next 24 hours,
80,000 frozen fish fingers will fly out of this factory.
Heading to a freezer near you.
Welcome to Inside The Factory.
This is the Caistor seafood factory near Grimsby in Lincolnshire.
It employs 200 skilled workers across a 26,000 square metre site.
They work around the clock to process 165 tonnes of fish every week...
..from whole fish, to smoked fillets and fishcakes.
Tonight, we're focusing on Waitrose's frozen chunky fish fingers.
Whether you like your fingers breaded or battered,
it's all about starting with the right fish.
And here, that's cod.
Cherry's been to see where it comes from.
I'm in Grindavik, one of the largest fishing harbours in Iceland.
Boats dock here every day, bringing in more than 100 tonnes of fish.
And almost half of that is cod.
I'm waiting for a fishing boat that has been at sea for about 20 hours,
it's freezing cold, even here in the port,
so goodness knows how they've been.
Oh, I think I can see the boat coming in now.
This boat goes to sea six days a week,
and the crew catch about eight tonnes of cod each time.
The captain has been fishing here for 28 years.
This is cod. Wow, wow.
I had no idea it was so huge.
-Yeah, it is.
-So, how long ago did you catch this, do you think?
This one was about two hours ago.
-That's the freshest caught fish I've ever seen.
The cod are caught using a responsible technique called long line fishing.
14 miles of fishing line with 20,000 baited hooks
is placed on the sea bed.
This method is sustainable and has a low impact on the ocean floor.
Will these cod make good fish fingers?
Yeah, this is the best size for fish fingers.
The fish are between four and six years old.
Any older and they're too big to handle.
So you're helping with your catch.
-You've got a lot of work on your hands.
-I'll step aside and let you get on with it.
-Thank you very much.
His haul is loaded onto a truck and driven less than a mile to a fish
factory for processing.
Factory manager Alda is showing me how the whole fish begin their
transformation into fish fingers.
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
-So, here's the cod.
-What happens now?
Now, we will gut it and grade it and get it ready for production.
First stop, fish gutting.
I'm feeling a bit nervous.
But expert filleter Eli makes it looks easy.
I'm just going to say, that I'm a real city girl,
and this is the first time I've ever seen this.
-This is a real biology lesson.
-You want to try?
I don't think I've ever touched a raw fish like this in my life.
Professional filleters like Eli gut up to ten cod a minute.
You don't want any of the insides?
I'm struggling with just one.
I am learning.
Right, now what happens with the fish?
-I put that down there.
-Next to the production area.
-I'll show you.
Next, the gutted fish are sorted by size.
And their heads cut off.
There are so many fish heads coming out of that machine.
How many fish go through this factory in one day?
5,000 and more.
The headless fish are filleted by a machine.
And the skin is removed.
Just 12 hours since they were pulled from the sea,
the fillets arrive at one of 12 trimming stations.
This is the trimming area.
So, we have our lovely fillet of fish.
So, which is the bit that goes into fish fingers?
I'll show you. Like this fillet here, we take out the bones first.
-OK, take out the bones.
-We take the line, we separate the line.
And the rest goes to the fish fingers.
So, the fish that goes into a fish finger is almost exactly the same as
the fish you get in a prime cut of cod?
-It is exactly the same.
-It's just a different shape.
It's not ALMOST exactly, it IS exactly the same.
Exactly the same.
We only need the prime cuts, but nothing goes to waste.
The livers have their oil extracted,
the skeleton and head are dried for soup,
and the skin is turned into animal feed.
The fillets for the fish fingers are packed tightly into
rectangular cardboard boxes.
We lay them like this.
-And we have to fill this box and freeze it.
Why is this done by hand? Why does the machine not do this?
Because the pieces are not all the same size.
So, you have to do it by hand.
The boxes, each weighing just over seven kilos,
are put into a freezer at -30 degrees for four hours,
until the cod is frozen solid.
It's absolutely amazing, that in just a few hours, I've seen cod cleaned,
cut and frozen into cod blocks ready
for its next stage at the fish finger factory.
To get to the factory, the cod heads from Grindavik to Reykjavik harbour.
And onto a ship where the containers of fish are kept frozen for the
entire 1,200 mile journey
to Immingham in Lincolnshire.
As each container is unloaded,
it is instantly plugged back into a power supply to keep its cargo frozen.
Its final destination is nine miles away,
at the NH Case fish cutting factory.
In charge of receiving this morning's batch of cod is site manager Nick Wilson.
-Nice to meet you, Gregg.
-I'm taking it for granted that this is our cod?
This is our frozen cod, yes.
How many fish fingers will this cod actually make?
There's ten pallets in here,
each pallet will give us about 27,000 fish fingers,
so just over a quarter of a million fish fingers
will come out of this lorry now.
So, this has got to stay frozen and we've had the doors open for a while.
That's right, we need to get a move on and get it into the cold store.
The transformation from fillets of cod to breaded fish fingers starts now.
The pallets are forklifted out of the freezer truck
and into the factory.
Right, so we've got our pallet of blocks of fish, now what?
We have to take them out of the cardboard.
-And we have nice fish blocks.
I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect that.
That looks like a lump of marble.
You never been tempted to take these home and do your kitchen worktops in them?
No, not really. Sort of tends to defrost a bit on the way!
First, we need to get the cardboard off.
Why don't you just bring it in without the cardboard on it?
Because if you bring it in without the cardboard,
it starts to get freezer burn on it.
So this all starts to dry out.
You want to go from the sides first.
Then fold that over.
So then when you have that,
you just flip it over
and then you can peel it back.
This must take ages.
We need three people to feed them machines.
-Three people work on a pallet?
Do I look really ridiculously slow to you?
-And that's it, done.
Chip off the old block.
Now there's a quick check to make sure the block
is at least -14 degrees.
The factory isn't refrigerated, so the team have to work fast.
If the temperature of the fish increases,
the machines won't be able to cut it.
-Is it OK?
-Yes, it's OK, temperature's good to go.
My palette of 160 frozen cod blocks is ready for the next step.
Those are standard blocks worldwide, same size, 7.484 kilos.
Hang on a minute. That is the standard weight around the world?
-Around the globe?
-Around the globe.
-Don't matter where you buy a block of frozen fish from,
-it's always going to be that?
-Is that it?
That is the standard currency of global frozen fish trade?
-Brilliant, that's brilliant!
Each 7.484 kilogram block is basically one big fish finger.
Now it's time to cut it down to size.
How many fish fingers does one of those blocks make?
168 fish fingers from one block.
To do that, the block is first sliced into four pieces, called bricks.
It's making four cuts.
-Are you going to count up to four?
-You are, aren't you?
-Then each brick is cut down again.
-Right, well, we had blocks.
-You then made bricks.
-What are these?
-These are planks.
-Right, so how many of them are there?
One, two, three, four, five, six.
-Planks in a brick.
How many bricks in a block?
How many bricks in a block, will be four bricks in a block.
How many planks in a brick?
My frozen block is now in 24 pieces.
The next cut requires considerable precision and concentration.
It's Daniel McCann's job to slice the planks into individual fish fingers,
each weighing exactly 42g, using a super-sharp saw.
I didn't want to talk to you while you were cutting up the fish.
Yeah, it's not a good idea, Gregg.
-You've got to focus, right?
-Yeah, very much so.
It takes Daniel just one minute to produce 168 fingers of fish.
We get seven fingers from each plank.
And a tiny little strip...
A tiny little off-cut.
And that's the trickiest bit to cut, isn't it?
That is the hardest part, that is where you've got to stay most focused.
Just two hours after my pallet of frozen cod block arrived at the factory,
I've got 27,000 naked fish fingers,
all ready for the next step in the process.
For millions of us, childhood tea-time without the fish finger is unimaginable.
Ruth Goodman has been tracing the history of this family favourite.
# Yes, Birds Eye Fish Fingers are much better too! #
The cod fish finger - the food of British childhood,
easy to cook and easy to eat.
They feel like they've been around forever,
but when did they first land on our shelves?
To find out, I've been invited to the Metropole Hotel in Brighton.
-Welcome to the Metropole.
To meet Peter Lack, who is head chef for Birds Eye.
He's brought me here to explain how the company first introduced the fish finger.
This is a pretty grand space.
And what's this got to do with fish fingers?
This is where the fish finger was born.
-Right here, in this room.
Yes, in 1955 we got 30 of our sales reps in here and we presented them
-with the fish finger.
-It's funny, isn't it?
I think of fish fingers as a very simple food.
This just seems so incongruous.
Peter's brought along one of the original adverts used to promote them.
"Sea fresh fish, ready cooked and easy to serve fingers.
"Your family will love them, the children especially."
It was the first fish product we developed that was designed specifically for children.
No bones, nice and clean,
easy for Mum to cook, and lovely fresh fish inside.
-When they know it's Birds Eye Fish Fingers for dinner,
they certainly need no coaxing.
So this was 1955.
Did many people actually have freezers in 1955?
Only about 3% of people had freezers.
You actually had to go and buy them on the day you were going to eat them.
And you ate them straightaway.
They were an instant hit.
542 tonnes were sold in the first year.
And in the second year, sales rocketed by 600%.
But it could have been a very different story.
The idea of a breaded finger of white fish came from North America,
where they were called Fish-Sticks.
They wanted to introduce a British version,
but planned to make them from a fish
that might not have been everyone's first choice.
This isn't quite what I was expecting.
No, these are herrings, they're lovely, aren't they?
Herrings? Yes, it's a lovely fish, herring,
but it's not what I think of when I think fish fingers.
Well, when we first started out, everything was herring.
So this was the fish that was most available in Britain?
-And that's what British people like,
that's what you're going to make your fish fingers out of.
Except that they're very small fish,
and getting them bone-free is quite a lot of work.
-And there's still a few there.
-And there's still a few.
Despite the difficulties, the company persevered,
and in 1954 they tested out these
breaded sticks of herring on the great British public.
And over 60 years later, I'm getting to try them too.
I'm looking forward to trying these.
It's a much stronger taste than a modern fish finger, isn't it?
-I can see it if you were a child,
the stronger flavour and the presence of bones
might be a bit off-putting.
Taste and bones weren't the only problem.
Can you imagine what we were going to call them?
Well, Fish Fingers I presume?
Oh, no. Herring Savouries is what we came up with.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Herring Savouries never made it to our shelves,
because they also trialled an alternative in those 1954 taste tests.
A breaded cod stick, which was a surprise hit.
One year later, the product as we know it was born.
Fish fingers changed the tastes of the nation
and they allowed children to enjoy the health benefits of fish
without any squeamishness of dealing with skin or bones.
But imagine if they'd never tried out the cod,
we could now be eating Herring Savouries for our tea.
GREGG: Two hours after arriving at the cutting factory,
my frozen fish fingers have been cut down to size.
From here, they head to the main factory 14 miles away
and the start of the 32 metre long production line.
Here, they'll be coated, fried, flash frozen and packed.
A load of frozen fish, leave this with me - it's in safe hands.
Waiting for me at the start of the line is assistant manufacturing manager Mel Nichols.
Right, do we have to get these out of here by hand?
We do unfortunately, I'm afraid.
Literally just pick them out, put them onto here...
..and then empty them onto this trough.
Why can't you just tip them straight on to the conveyor belt?
Because they sometimes come out like that,
so when they've been in the freezer they'll just stick together.
So we tip my naked fish fingers...
-Cos they've got no coating on them yet.
-They're naked, to me. So we tip those onto here and then they
-manually have to be checked to make sure they're not sticking together?
My fish fingers are whisked away into the first machine.
Right, that looks like a steamer to me.
It's like a great big kettle really, in there.
So it's just producing steam and it's just taking the top layer of ice off.
So as you can see, that's just passed through
and it's all nice and wet.
It's not just the top layer, is it?
It's all over it, it's the top, the bottom and the sides.
The outer layer of ice is melted to make the finger wet and sticky,
ready for its first coating.
And what do you call this bit?
-That is a pre-dust.
Yeah. Not dust as in your dust off your telly.
That pre-dust is flour?
-And I'm guessing you put flour round it to make the batter stick?
My naked fish fingers are just about to get covered over in a blanket of
flour, or dust, as you call it.
They are, so they'll not be naked any more.
It's a shame, really.
Mind you, it'll hide their blushes, won't it?
Like having their underwear on.
Fish fingers are one of the most popular products in our freezer,
but many people consider frozen to be inferior to fresh.
Cherry went to find out if that's true.
To be honest, I think of the stuff in my freezer
as what I use when I need to get a meal on the table quickly.
It's certainly not what I would turn to
if I was going to make something special.
But one chef is hoping to change my mind.
Hi guys, I'm Miguel Barclay, welcome the One Pound Meals YouTube channel.
Today, we're going to be cooking a lovely
fresh and vibrant pea cannelloni.
Internet star Miguel made his name devising recipes
that cost less than £1 a portion,
and he's passionate about the cost savings you can find in the freezer aisle.
So I've set him a challenge...
Can he use frozen ingredients to produce
two top-notch dinner party dishes that can pass for fresh?
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
So what are we cooking? That is a lobster tail.
Exactly. We're going straight in
with a classic high-end posh dish and I'm
going to show you how to do a lobster Thermidor with it.
All the ingredients Miguel's using were bought frozen.
So, you've got your lovely defrosted lobster tail,
and because it's been frozen, is it cheaper?
Yes, so this one comes in at £5, and if you were going to buy this fresh,
you're looking at about the £7.50 mark.
So that's a lot cheaper.
It's a high cost gourmet ingredient,
but Miguel's pairing it with something a little less high-end
which I've never seen before.
Frozen cheese sauce?
My head says I understand, my heart says no, it's wrong!
These cheesy pellets can be tipped straight into the frying pan without defrosting.
We finish the sauce with some frozen onions and garlic.
Why are these not in my life?
Well, a lot of people A, don't know they exist, and B,
just don't have any faith in them.
Frozen onions and garlic are a revelation.
Exactly. So this dish here, we only need like a quarter of an onion,
so what would we do with the other three quarters of an onion?
Well, no, you put it in the fridge and you let it rot.
-That's what happens.
And then one day you stumble across it and throw it out.
And you go, "Oh, that's what that smell is!"
In Britain, we throw away over 7 million tonnes of food every year,
mostly bread, fruit and veg.
Frozen food allows you to use only the amount you need,
so you chuck less in the bin.
I suppose the only other big question is, does it taste OK?
It's got to be good, you know...
-A lovely bit of crunch.
-It's so good, I'm so happy!
I'm loving the lobster starter,
but will Miguel's main course turn out as tasty?
It's duck breast and cabbage mash,
garnished with something I'd never think of buying frozen -
With some frozen items, do you lose some of the nutritional value?
Well, actually, some frozen items you get more nutritional value.
So the peas are packaged within two hours of picking,
so you're actually preserving them at their absolute peak.
So this is as nutritionally good
-as if it were fresh potatoes and fresh cabbage?
It looks fabulous, but does it taste good?
It just tastes really nice.
It just goes to show how frozen produce can taste as good as fresh.
You have revolutionised my freezer use with pellets of mash.
I would not have guessed that, I'll be honest.
Well, I'm won over, but are Miguel's dishes good enough
to convince other people to rethink frozen produce?
We took them out onto the street to find out.
-Wow, that's lovely.
-The lobster's extremely good.
-You like the lobster?
Oh, I say!
Is that a winner, winner?
What would you say if I told you it was made entirely out of frozen
Is this frozen?
Yeah, 100% frozen ingredients.
-Tastes very fresh. I'm surprised.
-That really is lovely.
It is really nice. I mean it doesn't look like frozen food.
A delicious gourmet meal and every one of the ingredients was originally frozen.
I like him!
At the factory, it's been four hours and 20 minutes
since my frozen cod arrived.
On the production line my naked fish fingers
are heading for the coating
area, where Nick Hill's in charge.
Nick, I've been sent over here to learn about the batter.
This 150-litre vat of batter must be constantly topped up to make sure it
never runs out, and today that's my job.
-What do I have to do?
-I've topped this up with water already,
next thing is a couple of shovels of ice in there.
-Keep the temperature of the batter down.
-You want me to do it?
-It's rock hard!
The ice will keep the temperature of the batter mix at 10 degrees,
which stops it getting sticky and over coating the fingers.
Perfect. The next bit is bag of the batter mix.
So, basically this is like any batter at home - this is flour and water?
-Yeah, yeah, that's all it is, yeah.
-And a bit of ice to keep it cool?
-But on a much bigger scale.
-Yeah, big, big scale.
Whoa! HE GRUNTS
If you shut the lid,
now we've got some controls just around the other side.
That one and them two.
-Then them two.
Inside the mixer, a blade turns 1,200 times every minute,
blending the flour, water and ice together.
Can't take long to mix, can it?
No, you'd like to leave it for five minutes to get all the lumps out.
If I lift this up, will it go everywhere?
-A little bit.
-Let's have a look.
-There you are. All mixed.
-There we go!
Next job would be, if you just lift the lid all the way up,
there's a little visco cup just at this pocket here.
A little disco cup? What's it called?
Viscosity. Checks how thick the batter is.
'We need to measure how long it takes for the batter...'
Go! '..to pour through a hole in the bottom of the cup.
'We're aiming for between 8-15 seconds.'
Nearly! Five seconds. A little bit more batter and we'll be there.
It's a matter of trial and error.
Do you want to turn the machine on again, please.
This place was really clean when I arrived.
I've held up the world's fish finger production,
messing about with a bag of flour.
Making a mess with a bag of flour!
-There we go, it's stopped.
Oh, that's so thick, so thick it's unbelievable.
I've never been so happy to see the inside of a visco cup.
I'm in a right mess. I've got to go and have a shower.
It's going to take an hour to clean up.
-Nick, I'm so sorry.
My freshly mixed cauldron of batter is enough to coat almost 8,000 fish fingers.
It's pumped directly from the mixer to the battering station.
As the fish fingers arrive,
they're trapped between two wire mesh conveyors
and carried into the river of batter.
Why are they between two cages like that?
Just to help drag them through, otherwise they'd just be floating.
Of course they would. What's this bit called?
-A batter enrober.
So that guarantees that these fish fingers are well and truly coated...
-..in my brilliantly made batter?
-Straight to the roto-crumb.
Posh name - breader.
Premade breadcrumbs are poured evenly across the conveyer from a nearby drum.
And the fingers are plunged into an avalanche of crumbs.
-Do you know what? It looks like they are diving into a wave.
-Does look pretty good, though.
-Come on! Last one in is a rotten egg!
I've had naked fish fingers.
-Then I've seen them put their underwear on.
Now they've got a robe on.
They will be fully dressed in a minute, I can tell.
-Erm... Where've they gone?
They are somewhere... Here we go.
It's like fishing for fish fingers.
Hang on, this is a game, this, isn't it?
-That's a lot of bread crumbs.
And that's to make sure they are completely and utterly coated?
Yeah, fully covered all the way around.
Any excess is removed by an air blower,
leaving an even coating all around.
And these are still frozen rock hard, right?
-Still rock hard. Yeah.
-How many of these are we making, Nick?
150 a minute.
-Quite a lot of fingers.
-I think they've journeyed more now than when they were actually whole fish.
That's a beautiful thing, mate.
-That is somebody's tea.
-Actually, I wouldn't mind if it was mine, to be honest.
I was going to say, I could do with one right now.
My frozen sticks of cod are heading for the fryer,
where Mel is standing by to answer my questions.
-What oil do you use?
-Do you know what temperature?
-For how long?
-Can I see them up the other end?
That's not enough heat to cook them, is it?
No, they're not cooked.
It's just literally cooking the breadcrumbs, if you like.
So what's the fish like inside?
Shall we pick one up and try?
It's still frozen.
Very hot, so be careful.
It's really hot on the outside and it's frozen in the middle.
That's supposed to be like that, right?
-So you've just cooked the breadcrumbs?
Literally. The intention is not to cook the fish at all.
It is literally just to cook the breadcrumbs.
-Yes, it's frozen.
-They came in as a block frozen. They're going out frozen.
-The fish is in exactly the same condition as it was when Cherry saw it in Iceland?
They're a little bit dark, aren't they?
They are at the moment, but over the next couple of days they'll actually
-come down in colour?
-What, they'll fade?
They'll fade, but it doesn't affect the flavour.
I get it, you don't actually want them this dark,
you cook them this dark because you know they're going to fade?
Hey! A bit like me with my suntan on holiday.
Get a bit red and lobstery cos I know I'll be golden at the end.
That's surprised me. I love that.
My fish fingers are almost ready for somebody's plate.
Meanwhile, Ruth is in London discovering what seafood they were putting on
their plates back in the 19th century.
RUTH: Rewind 170 years and this place,
Billingsgate, was the biggest fish market in the world.
Over 3,000 people here shifted 120,000 tonnes of fish a year.
And the most popular seafood product was something rather surprising.
Food historian Drew Smith is here to fill me in.
-Drew, lovely to see you.
-Lovely to see you.
So, what exactly was the best selling fish in Victorian London?
Cos all of this bank here would have been full of oysters.
There would have been eight, nine, ten barges bringing them up here
and they would be shovelling them up here,
and from here they'd put them on a horse and cart,
take them all around London.
In 1851, Billingsgate fishmongers sold 500 million oysters.
That's 200 for every Londoner.
At a penny for four, they were affordable for everyone.
So, this really is a food of everybody?
Rich, poor, makes no difference, there's lots of it about,
-everybody's eating them?
-Yep, and it was London's food.
I mean, they come sort of pre-packaged, really, in a way?
In their own shell?
Yes, they were the convenience food of the Victorian era.
You know, they were easy to handle.
You could eat them on the street, of course, without needing any cooking.
Victorians also believed this protein-packed shellfish
had a rather saucy side effect.
Oysters are a very healthy food and it's one of the reasons they got the
reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Because actually you'd feel a lot better
because you were probably so depleted.
Of course, if you had been living on bread, bread, bread, and bread,
with your bit of tea... HE GROANS
Yeah. And then you get a sudden hit of all that protein,
it's going to have a big impact on a person.
-It did, yeah.
Oysters were so cheap and popular that pubs like this one in Bethnal Green
would offer them free with your pint.
Oh, they look good.
So, what changed?
Why is it we now think of oysters as purely posh food?
Well, you can track it down through these newspaper cuttings we've got
-here, right down to November 10th, 1902.
-As specific as that!
On that date, guests at an oyster-laden banquet in Winchester
suffered catastrophic food poisoning.
Half the guests at the banquet went sick.
And it says here... This is a first report.
"Nearly a dozen of the most prominent citizens of Winchester,
"including the Dean, the headmaster of the college and a councillor are on the sick list."
In all, 63 guests at the Winchester banquet became ill,
some of them diagnosed with typhoid.
And things went from bad to worse.
"Mr E Douglas Godwin, one of the best-known legal practitioners in Hampshire,
"died yesterday at Winchester, the fourth victim of the illness."
These are really prominent people who are dying, aren't they?
The cause of death was traced back to the oysters and a stretch of
the south coast that had been contaminated with sewage.
The town Emsworth had built their drains over the oyster beds
and had polluted the oyster beds, which had caused typhoid.
Typhoid passed straight through the oysters and back into people.
This highly contagious waterborne disease had spread through the oyster beds.
When word got out, the press had a field day.
This is the Worcester Chronicle.
This is the Yorkshire Post, and this is the Manchester Courier.
So the story spread right across the country.
This isn't a local Winchester story, this is a national scandal.
One that sounded the death knell for the British oyster industry.
The oyster beds were closed down and actually it was the start of
what we call public health these days,
and oysters just went into complete decline.
So it's absolute as definite as that.
We have one incident of an outbreak.
Bonk. End of the oyster industry.
This completely killed it, yes, absolutely.
So Britain's original convenience fish product disappeared from our tables.
As recently as 1990s,
you could almost say the oyster industry was over in this country.
And it's only in the last 20 or so years that things have started to pick up.
Today, oysters are carefully cultivated and regarded as a luxury food.
In fancy restaurants they can cost upwards of £2 each.
That's a far cry from their glory days as an everyday staple in Victorian London.
Back in Caistor, my fish fingers look finished.
But before I can pack them,
I have to oversee a rather surprising delivery.
-Hello there. Are you all right?
Every week, the factory receives two 25-ton tankers of liquid nitrogen.
Is this a particularly scary product?
It can be scary. You've got to be trained,
but it can be scary in the wrong hands.
What's dangerous about it?
It's very cold, so it can burn you.
And what happens if a load of liquid nitrogen goes flooding out of the tank?
Well, you don't want to be around.
Cos it will just freeze everything what's around it.
Nitrogen occurs naturally in the air around us.
Most of the time it's a gas, but when it is cooled down to minus 196 degrees Celsius,
it becomes a liquid, making it easier to transport.
And it's just what I need to freeze my fish fingers.
Are we ready to unload, boss?
-We are, mate.
-Come on, what do we do?
I've got to press these two buttons, start the engine.
Make sure that the delivery valve is open
and now I'm going to start the pump.
-There goes the pump.
The liquid nitrogen is pumped into the on-site storage tank.
How long is this going to take to unload?
-About an hour.
-Mate, I'll leave you to it, shall I?
Thank you very much. I've seen lots of lorries being unloaded.
-This is my favourite.
-Great. Pleased to have met you.
My frozen cod arrived five hours and 21 minutes ago.
Now, my coated fish fingers are heading to the freezer.
That's a serious big freezer.
That must be the liquid nitrogen that I saw being delivered, right?
-How cold is that?
It's currently at minus 50.
Nitrogen gas is sprayed in the top of the freezer,
rapidly reducing the temperature of the fish fingers
to minus 15 degrees.
This is called flash freezing.
It preserves the fish, giving it a shelf life of up to 12 months.
Does it just go straight through a flat conveyor and come out the other side?
No. Inside there is like a corkscrew.
The fish fingers slowly move upwards on a 110-metre spiral conveyor.
They make 16 rotations, and after 18 minutes they emerge from the top.
Hang on a minute. So these fish fingers go up on a corkscrew and come down on a slide?
Yes, it's like a fairground for fish fingers.
It certainly is, isn't it?
180 fish fingers slide out of the freezer every minute.
-OK, can I get one?
-Yes, you can, if you are quick.
Wow, that is frozen solid.
-Wow, that is...
-You can't get much more frozen than that.
FISH FINGER CLANGS
Do they start to get warmer after they come out the freezer?
No, total opposite.
It's so cold in there that they continue to get colder.
Do they really?
-How many degrees colder can they get?
They come out there roughly minus 15 degrees and they end up minus 18.
There are so many things in here I find remarkable.
I kind of like to think the fish fingers are having a nice time, don't you?
I think it looks like they are.
This factory is packed to the gunwales with hi-tech equipment,
like this nitrogen freezer.
But there is a proud history of low-tech fish production
right here in Grimsby. Cherry has been to lend a hand.
Some modern preservation techniques, like freezing,
have been around for about a century.
But there's one way of preserving that's been around since the dawn of time.
This smoke house has been here for the last 90 years and produces
15 tonnes of fish every week.
Third-generation fish smoker Angie King is going to show me how it's done.
-What kind of fish are we using?
-This is fresh Icelandic haddock,
and it doesn't get much better than that.
That is a perfect, perfect fillet of fish.
And you're going to make it into a perfect fillet of smoked fish.
It all begins with a 165-litre bath of water, and 25 kilos of salt.
-Now you have the special brining shovel.
Now they are mixed together, we have created a brine.
Why do you brine the fish first?
We brine fish because it's a preservative
that is added to the fish. It gives the fish extra life.
So we've got our briny water.
-Is that it? Are we done?
-No, not at all.
We've now got the important ingredient, which is the colour.
I thought that the colour developed while it was smoking.
I think that's an old adage.
People have always thought that,
that the fish became yellow when it went into the chimneys.
And actually it isn't. It's the colour that we add to the fish.
So, why bother dyeing it?
The traditional bright yellow colour comes from adding the natural spices
turmeric and annatto.
You'll see now the colour's starting to take.
The colourful salt bath is ready for the fish.
Gently just tease the fish into the brine and let it drop to the bottom.
You're now going to leave it for five minutes to allow
the salt to infuse into the fish.
It's like when I have a bath and I ask my kids to just give me
-five minutes peace.
The fish are hung out on what's known as speets.
Try and get them just not touching, just slightly apart from each other.
They hang for two hours, so the excess moisture can drip off.
-So now what?
-Now the magic begins.
-Are we going to smoke?
-We're really going to smoke.
-Is it time? Finally.
-It's that time. Yes.
Oh, my goodness. Wow!
The factory has 11 chimneys, each ten metres tall.
The walls are encrusted black with tar from decades of use.
You would be the runner.
You will pass this fish to a guy in that chimney.
He will be harnessed up there.
There will be another guy above him,
and that speet of fish will literally be passed from you, to him, to him.
This I have to see.
120 kilos of fish are loaded into the chimney.
Once this job is done, it's known as a full house.
Eddie, that's the last one.
-Up she goes.
All we need now is the smoke.
Embers are added to a pile of sawdust made from oak,
beech and European softwoods.
And all that will do, in time, is start to smoulder,
just like that bucket is.
That's what'll smoke your fish.
That's the magic.
The cool smoke, never more than 20 Celsius, infuses into the flesh,
giving the fish its characteristic delicate flavour.
The haddock hangs in the chimney for between 14 and 16 hours.
Meanwhile, Angie has yesterday's batch ready to be packed.
-So you literally...
-That is beautiful.
Springy to the touch and very glossy.
So you'll pack three fillets on the bottom, normally.
Now you'll put another piece of paper on,
you put in two more fillets in this box,
and that's your first box packed.
Well done, girl. Well done.
I am absolutely as proud as punch with this box of fish.
Well, I'm so pleased you are, but would you now finish the rest?
GREGG: Cherry may have abandoned her task,
but the smoked fish need a bit more work.
And for that, they've come to our factory.
The fillets go through a laser scanner
that precisely measures the fish.
Then a blade divides it into portions,
cutting it so fast that even in slow motion you can't see it move.
Finally, perfectly uniform sized pieces are packed,
ready for the supermarket shelf.
Back on the production line, my fish fingers are also ready for packing.
So they've come out the freezer.
Now we've just got to pack them.
So just three fingers on top of each other in a stack like that.
Open the bag, put them in.
Then you just put your next three in.
Then just take the bag off,
fold it over the top.
-Not veg days.
-Now, Mrs Miggins, here's your artichoke.
Packing them by hand means that each fish finger can be given a quick
But you have to do it fast, to prevent a fish finger pile up.
I don't think you're quite the speed of the girls, though.
Yeah, give me a chance!
The bags move down the line and are sealed shut,
while the next machine prepares the cardboard boxes.
The machine folds it into a carton, folds it over, glues it,
and the ladies and gentlemen that side put the fingers directly into the box.
Then the other side gets folded, glued, comes out the other side.
I like those metal knobs, gently turning the boxes round the right way.
Good bit of engineering, that.
Isn't that? The simplest of things, it's really clever,
and it works perfectly every time.
The boxes continue past the printer.
-What's this tube?
-That's date coding.
That doesn't even touch the box.
It's just kind of spraying it on.
-That there is a unique code to that product.
When you trace it back, you can go back to exactly where it was caught.
That code there tells you who caught the fish
-that was turned into the fish finger?
Seriously. The life of that fish, from the second that we've caught it,
all the way through until it lands on somebody's plate,
we can trace it all the way back.
Well, this bloke is a pretty good fisherman,
because he caught all 12 of these fish fingers.
Finally, my boxes of fish fingers are in a delivery carton.
Their 32-metre journey along the production line is complete.
Is this it, Mel, is this the last stage?
This is the last stage in here.
We're just putting our outer case label on,
palletising it up, and then it will go out to logistics.
Do you know what's different about this than other factories I've been to?
This is normally always done by machine.
I like it that there's people here.
How do you feel when you see them on the shelves?
-Do you? Why?
-Cos we've made them.
1,600 finished boxes come off the line every hour.
That's a whopping 9,600 individual fish fingers.
Six hours and 32 minutes after my frozen cod arrived at the cutting
factory, the finished fish fingers
are being taken to the dispatch area.
Soon to be in a freezer near you.
Nearly all of us have a freezer in our homes,
but only one in ten of us is confident about the rules of freezing and defrosting.
Cherry went to put that right.
I've got to admit a little bit of uncertainty
when it comes to the dos and don'ts of freezing and defrosting food.
I'm pretty sure I know what's safe and what isn't,
but mostly I'm guessing.
I've come to Abertay University in Dundee to meet
food scientist Professor Costas Stathopoulos, who can answer my questions about freezing.
So, when you freeze food, what happens?
You freeze water and everything it contains.
Most food has about 90-95% water.
And bacteria use this water as a source of food.
So when we freeze,
we are freezing this water, turning it into ice,
and therefore the bacteria can no longer access this food.
In the fresh meat case, if you press it,
you can see that there is moisture around,
so that indicates that there is the possibility of bacteria being fed.
While in the frozen, there is no movement of water at all,
therefore the bacteria, although they are there,
-they just cannot be fed.
-So, when you freeze food,
you don't actually freeze or kill the bacteria.
No, you do not kill them, no.
You freeze the water, which means the bacteria have nothing to eat,
-which means they can't grow.
Freezing preserves food by keeping the levels of bacteria in check.
But when it thaws, they can start to multiply.
So, how do you defrost safely?
As an example, frozen turkey. What would you do with it?
OK, so I would get this out of my freezer and I would be very hungry
and I'd want food immediately,
so I'd put it in the microwave on the defrost setting
and wait until it was not cold in the middle.
That's my technique.
It is really not the best of techniques.
It is always a recommendation to follow the instructions on the packaging.
So, Costas, I have a confession.
I didn't even know that there were defrosting instructions on the packets.
I have never, ever read even a single one.
The standard advice is to defrost all meat products in the fridge.
The lower temperature slows down bacterial growth,
reducing the risk of an upset stomach.
So, I just wanted to show you how important it is to thaw food properly.
In this Petri dish, we use the frozen turkey we had before,
and then thawed it in the refrigerator,
as per instructions on the packaging.
What are these spots?
Every spot corresponds to a colony of microorganisms having grown there.
For example, the blue ones are E. coli.
You see, that, to me, sounds dangerous.
At low levels, it is not a problem.
That's completely fine. Yeah.
-However, if you defrost at room temperature,
say you just leave it on the kitchen bench overnight,
it's the same sample, but you see how much more growth we have had.
Right, that is startling.
I do that a lot.
I leave the food out on the side overnight
because I think that's how you defrost things.
Things will defrost, but as you see,
it is not the way to do it.
That's because the outside of the meat reaches room temperature faster than the inside,
providing the perfect breeding ground for microorganisms.
So, let's just say that I have defrosted my turkey mince,
but then decided actually what I quite fancy is going out for pizza,
but I don't want to waste the meat. Can I refreeze it?
That would be a bad idea.
We did that, actually, just to check.
And you see here. This sample has been frozen and thawed twice.
This sample has been frozen and thawed three times.
Oh, my goodness me.
It's the whole universe in there.
Every time you defrost food, the bacteria multiply.
If you refreeze it, you are also freezing more bacteria.
So if you do defrost something but you don't fancy it...
-Cook it before use.
-Cook it and then refreeze it.
-Yes, that's fine.
And once it's been frozen, keep it in the freezer about six months.
I wouldn't want to go past six months.
After that, you start losing the quality of the food as well.
Today's been a real eye-opener for me.
From now on, I'm going to take a good look at the defrosting instructions
on the packets, and make sure I keep those tricky bacteria under control.
Oh, crying out loud!
My fish fingers are waiting for me in the distribution area.
To keep them frozen, they are stored in a giant walk-in freezer.
In charge of this chilly operation is logistics manager Lee Kelly.
Lee, are these my fish fingers?
-They are, Gregg.
this has to be the coldest place I've ever been.
Pretty chilly, minus 24 at the minute.
Mate, I really want to get out of here.
Can we get someone in here to take these away so we can get out?
-Let's do it, yes.
-Got any cocoa?
The pallets are forklifted out of the freezer and straight onto a truck.
Well, there it goes, solidly frozen.
-Is that a frozen truck as well? It must be.
-It is, yes.
It will be set at minus 24, same as the cold store.
So, how fast do you have to work?
Pretty fast. The vehicle arrived moments ago,
so the lads have been unloading from the cold stores directly onto the vehicle.
How many fish fingers on there?
I would say over 150,000 fingers, actual fingers on there.
-Yeah, approximately 26 pallets.
-150,000 fish fingers.
When are they likely to be on the supermarket shelves?
Depending on stock in store, they could be there tomorrow.
So my fish fingers could actually be in somebody's freezer
-in the next day or so?
-Yeah, yeah, possibly.
The fish fingers will be transported to distribution depots
before heading to supermarket shelves all over the country.
They are particularly popular in Cambridge and Cheltenham,
but the biggest fans are in Salisbury.
-Shall we let it get loaded and get it on its way?
-Yeah, let's do it.
Just over eight hours ago, I saw cod arriving at the cutting factory.
Since then, it has passed through the hands of more than 20 skilled
workers, and now my fish fingers are finally ready to go.
I've realised there are more people in this factory than there are robots,
and I like that. But what I really like is that as soon as the cod is
landed, it's put into blocks and frozen, and it remains frozen,
and only thaws out when it's in our ovens.
That is brilliant.
Next time, we are in the Netherlands,
taking you inside one of Europe's largest sauce factories.
It makes three quarters of a million bottles of mayonnaise every day.
I come face-to-face with some cracking technology.
That may be the best machine I have ever seen.
And Cherry's getting hot under the collar,
making jars to put the mayo in.
Gregg Wallace explores the Grimsby factory that processes 165 tonnes of fish a week and produces 80,000 cod fish fingers every day. Cod arrives at the factory as compressed blocks of frozen fish. The blocks weigh exactly 7.484 kilos, which is a standardised measure in every fish factory right across the world. Gregg watches as each block is cut into 168 naked fish fingers which are then floured, battered and breaded, ready for a quick 45-second trip through the fryer. He also helps take delivery of 25 tonnes of liquid nitrogen, used to flash freeze the fingers at minus 15 degrees C. But Gregg is amazed to discover that the fish inside the finger remains frozen through every stage of production, right up to the moment you cook it at home.
Meanwhile, Cherry Healey travels to Grindavik in Iceland where they land up to 50 tonnes of cod a day. She follows the fish through the processing factory, even trying her hand at gutting the fish. Back in Grimsby, she assists with an ancient method of preserving fish - cold smoking. She learns that the yellow colour of smoked haddock is not down to the smoke but instead is produced by the additional of a natural colouring made from turmeric. Also, just like nine out of ten Brits, Cherry isn't very confident about how to safely defrost food, so she heads to the lab to get the lowdown on bacteria and freezing.
Historian Ruth Goodman is investigating the origins of cod fish fingers. She finds that Bird's Eye were the first to introduce them to the UK, basing them on a US product called fish sticks. They were introduced in 1955 and were an instant hit. 542 tonnes were sold in the first year of sale. That went up by 600% the following year. But the British public had a narrow escape - the original idea was that fish fingers would have been made with the oilier and bonier fish, herring. Ruth's also looking at Britain's original fish-based convenience food: the oyster. In the 19th century, Londoners could buy four for a penny, but an outbreak of food poisoning after a banquet in November 1902 caused a national scandal and their popularity plummeted.