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Resolving Mail-Order Complaints

December 26, 1985|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

Question: Is there a consumer hot line to call for complaints on mail-order food? I had ordered some special salami from a company through a catalogue ad but the salami I received tasted rancid. The company refused to replace my order. Who can I call?

Answer: The mail-order industry has its own trade organization called the Direct Marketing Assn., which runs a write-in action line for consumer complaints. You may write to Mail Order Action Line, Direct Marketing Assn., 6 East 43rd St., New York, N,Y. 10017. Send a brief letter, explaining your problem, with details on dates, costs and other vital information.

For meat and poultry products, you may call the U.S. Department of Agriculture's toll-free Meat and Poultry Hot Line: (800) 535-4555. The hot line operates from Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Pacific time. For other foods, call the nearest U.S. Food and Drug Administration office.

For complaints on fraudulence, aside from the Mail Order Action Line, you may also contact the Chief Postal Inspector, U.S. Postal Service, Washington, D.C. 20260-2161. Other sources are state and local consumer protection offices and the Better Business Bureau, or write the publication that carried the ad for the mail-order company.

Q: Are there any government standards to be met regarding the meat content of certain canned or frozen foods? For instance, in burritos, meat casseroles, macaroni and cheese with ham or any convenience foods that call for meat, do manufacturers really follow any requirement of minimum meat content? I'm just questioning whether some of these products contain a lot less meat than what one would expect to get.

A: To provide full information on this matter, there is a consumer booklet published by the USDA, which has been prepared by the Food Safety and Inspection Service. There are two types of food standards set by the FSIS for content and labeling: the standards of composition and the standards of identity.

The standards of composition identify the minimum amount of meat or poultry required in a product's formula. Burritos, for instance, should have at least 15% meat, whereas macaroni and cheese with ham should have at least 12% ham. Beef with gravy should have at least 50% beef (cooked), whereas gravy with beef should have at least 35% beef (cooked).

The standards of identity set specific requirements for a food's make up: the kind and minimum amount of meat or poultry, the maximum amount of fat or moisture and any other ingredients allowed.

The guide lists more than 250 popular meat and poultry products, from baby food to won ton soup. To receive a single free copy of the Meat and Poultry Products, A Consumer Guide to Content and Labeling Requirements (or Home and Garden Bulletin No. 236), write to FSIS Information, Room 3951-S, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250.

Q: Do you have a conversion table that indicates amounts of whole almonds versus almond meal? I was delighted to find almond meal packaged but all the recipes that call for finely ground almonds (used in lieu of flour) state the amounts as whole nuts. Meanwhile, my almond meat waits in the freezer.

A: Eight ounces of shelled whole almonds is equivalent to three cups of ground almonds or almond meal.

Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.

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