For people who write about the food industry, one of the things guaranteed to drive us insane is the degree of secrecy. Food people practice omertà to a degree that makes the Mafia look like a bunch of blabbermouths.

Part of it has to do with the old secret-recipe mentality, I guess. The problem is that it spills into every aspect of operations, including processing and packaging. People are reluctant to talk, for various reasons.

Years ago, I was speaking on the phone to an engineer at a plant that made frozen prepared meals. I was asking him about how they got the trays to go into a contact-plate freezer despite having a flange-like lip that ran all around the top of the tray. He was describing how they got the flanges to shingle, allowing the trays to nestle together going onto the bottom freezer plate. But as he spoke, he got more and more nervous. Finally he burst out, “Look, we engineers know all about this. It’s no secret. But the marketing people think it’s this big voodoo thing, and they’re afraid if I talk to you about it, our stock price will plunge or something.”

I understand, in part; no one wants to tip off a competitor. But it can get ridiculous sometimes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to grab someone by the lapels and shout, “Get over yourselves! You make cookies, not nuclear weapons!”