The curse of the vague instructions.

“Shake Well” it says in tiny letters along the bottom edge of the cup.

I’m finding that as I get older I’m turning more and more into a crotchety old man. Also I think about some things entirely too much. Certainly more thought than they deserve.

Take as an example the simple instructions on so many foodstuffs these days to SHAKE WELL. This was brought to mind for me the other day as I sat at my desk at work as I was about to add some flavored coffee creamer to my morning cuppa. I looked down at the package in my hand and saw the demand printed there in all caps between the declarations NO REFRIGERATION NEEDED and UHT PROCESSED.

I hadn’t been in the habit of shaking the little cups of creamer previously and I wondered if I had been experiencing a sub-par coffee experience as a result. Being that I usually put at least two of them into my coffee I decided to run an experiment. The first cup I would open as I usually did without shaking it to any degree and then I would shake the second one and open it and see if I could discern any differences between the two.

That’s when it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure what is meant by “shake well.” I understand the why of shaking some products before using them. Some mixtures separate when left sitting for too long, particularly if they contain both water and oil as part of their ingredients. What annoys me is the vagueness of the instruction. Is that three or four shakes? Is it at least 5 seconds of shaking? Could it be as long as 20 or 30 seconds if I want the mixture to be optimal? Is there a set number you have to pass before it’s considered to have been shaken well? Also, what the hell is so important about UHT processing that they felt the need to tell me it had undergone it?

Doing a Google search wasn’t particularly helpful. Others have asked this same question and the answer seems to vary depending on what product you’re talking about. Medicines seem to have the longest suggested shake times of at least 30 seconds or so. Everything else is left to whatever whims you happen to be predisposed to. Someone asked this very question on Yahoo! Answers UK and the responses were about as varied (and snarky) as you would imagine.

In the end I opted for about a half-dozen quick flicks back and forth pinched between my thumb and forefinger and then I opened it up and compared it to the unshaken cup. I couldn’t discern a difference. Both of the milky-looking substances appeared to be of the same consistency with no obvious separation of oils or other ingredients in the unshaken cup. And then it occurred to me that it’s probably a moot point because once you’ve put the creamer into your cup you’re going to stir it anyway so that it blends throughout your coffee. Even if you flat out refuse to shake well before using it’s still going to get mixed in pretty well by the stirring, unless you refuse to that as well. In which case shaking it might make some detectable difference. I don’t know as I didn’t undertake that experiment because by that point in time I’d grown bored with it.

Ultimately I’ve decided that I shall be a rebel and not shake my creamer packages well — or even mediocrely — prior to putting them into my coffee because I’ll be stirring the shit out of it anyway and there’s no point in the extra effort. Also I learned that UHT stands for Ultra High Temperature which is a process of food sterilization.

8 thoughts on “The curse of the vague instructions.

  1. The problem with not shaking is, the part that separates out may be too viscous to pour out and may be stuck in the container. I ruined a $45 gallon can of spar varnish that way by not stirring thoroughly enough. But under no circumstances should you put urethane varnish into your coffee, so it’s probably a moot point.

  2. The last time I was advised to “Shake Well”, it involved barium milk before a CT scan. I complained that the first round of barium milk was disgusting, and was advised that if you shook it well, there was some “flavor” that made it taste a little better. Upon taking the second round, I discovered the flavor itself was, if possible, even more disgusting.

    Bleah. Thank goodness I’m done with that crap.

    Some food/drink company would score points with me if they had “Shaken, not stirred”.

  3. I use a couple hundred of these in a little over a month and I have never stopped to read where it says to shake it. Humm I wonder if I’m missing out on another exciting experience because of old age!

  4. Neil, loved your Fry & Laurie clip.

    Incidentally, I took the time to write an email to the folks at International Delight asking what the recommended shake time was for their creamer pots. Their reply was amusingly vague:

    Thank you for your recent e-mail to International Delight®. We appreciate your interest in our products.

    The creamers should be shaken for a few seconds, enough to thoroughly mix the ingredients. We hope this information is helpful and you continue to enjoy our products.

    Thanks again for contacting the Consumer Affairs Department.

    I’ll give them credit for replying, but it really doesn’t help. It’s only slightly less vague than the instructions on the packet itself.

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