Choice lab tour
From time to time, I get invited to trial new products or blog about something specific. I only do so if my curiosity is piqued or it’s a product or service I think is worthwhile. So I’ve been invited to blog, tweet and take photos at the upcoming Choice Shonky awards, which exposes the year’s dodgiest products. For my international readers, Choice is a leading Australian consumer advocacy group. They test consumer products and provide reviews as well as lobbying to change laws and industry practices. The awards will be held this coming week in a no doubt glittering ceremony hosted by actor/comedian, Jean Kitson. Since I’m a long-time reader of Choice magazine, I decided to take up the invite.
In the run-up to next week’s ceremony, I was invited to tour the new Choice lab facilities where they test products. This was their first blogger lab tour and I found myself on the tour with a couple of food bloggers who were busy twittering and an online media content creator, who was filming. So next week we’ll be blogging and twittering at the ceremony, which you can follow on Twitter under hashtag shonkys
So…what did I discover at the secret squirrel labs? I was hoping to find some mad looking scientists in white lab coats and test tubes full of bubbling liquids about to explode. But no…I found some normal looking people going about their business of testing products. We started off by meeting John Ashes, the Choice lab manager, who took us on the tour of the new premises, which used to be the Pie TV factory back in the 1950s. Very cool.
They have about 15-16 staff who test products and they all come from varied backgrounds with different university degrees. First up, we went into the food lab where Fiona was testing hand-held food mixers, which she even tests on pizza dough to assess the strength of the product. Choice do extensive comparative testing and test a product for about 2 weeks. I didn’t take my Nikon with me; just a small camera, so the photos are a bit dodgy. But here’s a few shots of John and Fiona and the mixers in the funky food lab with lots of shiny equipment:
Fiona was about to test the mixers with meringues and cake mix but alas we missed out on any food tasting because next up was the computer test lab to meet Ryan. He tests things like computer monitors, budget laptops, TVs and so on. His tests appear on the Choice website and in Computer Choice, which is a separate magazine (6 issues a year). The good news I picked up in this lab was that TVs in stand-by mode now have to conform to less than 1 watt energy usage. Choice staff often sit on Standards Australia committees and they were involved in the Standards around TVs and use of energy. Here’s a shot of Ryan in his lab and John pointing to the calibration monitor. All test instruments are calibrated externally and they compare their test instruments using this unit. Even rulers are calibrated (serious scientific testing stuff!).
On our way to other lab areas, we passed through the breakout area where staff have coffee and (of great interest to me) share knowledge about various products and tests going on.
Next up was the refrigerator testing area and then the small appliances and toy testing labs. I learnt that there are only 4 or 5 fridges in Australia that can really do the job of keeping food in an even temperature and the best temperature for the fresh food compartment is around 3.3 degrees Celsius or 35-58 degrees Fahrenheit. Peter in the small appliances lab looked to have the best job if you ask me. He was busy testing coffee machines using Vittoria coffee (as this is a brand of coffee most consumers can find and purchase). He was testing machines that range in price from AU$200-1200 and it seems that hefty price doesn’t necessarily give you the best cup of coffee.
I really liked the testing area for dishwashers and washing machines. This is Choice’s busiest lab because they run two types of tests at once. For dishwashers, testers use standard plates and cutlery, soil these with food from the four food groups and let things dry overnight in 20 degree temperature with 60% humidity. A computer logs information whilst testing is going on and measures things like water and energy use, temperature etc.
With washing machines, Choice uses soiled patches from Holland, coated with standard dirt and they also attach 100 sq cm of embroidery material of a coarse weave. This flops around and frays so they then trim and measure the area, which gives a score of gentleness. Who would have thought! They even determine how much detergent is left over in a washing machine. They test white loads (white towels, white sheets, white shirts) because it’s representative of what the average person will use or wear and they wash in cold water.
The last stop was the area for testing products like light bulbs and baby strollers. What was really cool was seeing 150 energy-saving light bulbs being tested. The bulbs are tested for 60 hours in a temperature controlled room and suspended from the ceiling on a rack.
It was great to see the thorough testing that goes on at Choice – it certainly gives me consumer confidence. I’ll do a further blog post soon about the awards. Thanks to Choice for the lab tour.