No matter how you cut it, judging for the FreeFrom Food Awards is not something you can do over Zoom. While sending out parcels of five or even ten products to judges might be feasible, sending out parcels of 50 certainly would not be. Even if the numbers were manageable, we always judge products blind which would mean removing everything from its packaging and packing it up again anonymously to mail it out – absolutely not a runner in hygeine and safety terms if no other.
However, the rules had always stated that if it was not possible to work at home, then gathering for work purposes, provided the COVID safety rules had been followed, was allowed. In fact, by the time we got to do our first judging sessions over the last two weeks, the vaccination programme was in full swing, the numbers had fallen dramatically and the risk of infection with them. None then less, since the last thing we would want to do is to spread infection amongst our judges, we were well prepared. Screens to separate judges from each other, truck loads of wipes and hand sanitisers, lots of open windows and plenty of masks.
We had already, last year, reduced our judging panels from eight to a maximum of six, and ideally four as we found that smallers numbers really worked better. So it was not a great stretch to reduce that by one more person to three. This meant that with a chair and our ‘scribe’ to make notes of judges’ comments for future feed back to entrants, we were five in the room. Easy enough to keep everybody more than a meter apart.
Reducing the number of judges to three and spreading the sessions out over five weeks instead of two and a half also relieved our storage issues, the space in here in Highgate being significantly reduced from what we had available in Belsize Park. So all good and ready to roll.
Given that food shopping is the one thing that we have all been able to indulge in over the last year, we had not expected to have too much of a falling off in terms of entrants, and we were right. With the exception (hardly surprisingly) of the FreeFrom Foods designed for Food Service, we had increased entries across the board and broke the 600 mark in total. As yet we are only half way through so I can only comment on the first 50% of entries but the standard has been very high. As you can see, judge Catherine Rose is certainly enjoying dunking her biscuits in the Tea Time category that we judged last week. (The image comes from the award’s Instagram feed which, under the guidance of our new Social Media Manager, Lindi of the AllergyTable, has been abuzz.)
Meanwhile, the Child and Teen Friendly Food category is being judged at home so that the full family can have input not only into the eating of the food but shopping for it, its nutritional content and its packaging (in terms both of sustainablilty and appeal).
Over Zoom we have also already judged our new packaging and labelling categories, the latter illustrating yet again what a complex issue freefrom labelling is and how very difficult it is to get it right. We have also chosen our FreeFrom Hero for 2021 – and no, I am not going to tell you!! You will have to wait until the 27th May and the big reveal.
Sadly, we had to give up on our hope of having a real live party again this year. We would only have been able to have 150 guests (we normally have around 300), they would all have had to wear masks and stay a meter apart from each other (not the greatest for networking) and we would not have been able to have our winners’ buffet. Given that we are now able to use a programme that will allow some pretty efficient on line networking, for this year, that seemed the better option. Here’s hoping for 2022.
To keep up with the judging sessions as they go, check into the awards Instagram, Facebook or Twitter feeds or sign up on the FFFA site for the awards’ newletter. And to keep up with freefrom news in general, join our new FreeFrom Business hub – a closed Facebook group where freefrom food professionals can ‘share challenges and solutions, exchange insights, discuss the latest freefrom news’ and, of course, keep up with the latest ‘in’ gossip!