James N. Klapthor

News media interest in IFT’s latest Expert Report Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues: Implications for Control in the 21st Century began even before the document was released at IFT’s International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo in Atlanta. So much so, in fact, that two news wire services and four major daily newspapers took advantage of advance copies of the report. This resulted in wire service coverage that hit the major morning newspapers and their Web sites hours before the report’s official release and the corresponding news conference at Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis. 

The Atlanta Journal Constitution considered the report worthy of front-page coverage, where its 400,000 readers discovered the headline, “Food Safety Perils Lurk, Study Warns,” with commentary provided by Expert Report chair Morris Potter and contributing author Michael Doyle. “We don’t live in a risk-free world, and our food supply reflects that,” said Potter, “There is something for everyone to do in the whole food chain, from the primary agricultural producers all the way to the consumers, to reduce risk at every step.” Doyle was quoted as saying, “We don’t have the technology available to us today to eliminate bacteria from fresh produce, raw poultry and raw foods of animal origin, so we just have to recognize harmful bacteria may be present and treat foods appropriately—cook them.” 

Insight from Potter and Doyle was also utilized by the Associated Press, who broke the story moments after the embargo was lifted at 12:01 a.m. EST, February 20. In the article, “Dangerous Food Bacteria Here to Stay,” Potter was quoted as saying, “The job of assuring microbiological food safety is unending,” and consumers “should take heart, however, because of the progress that has been made.” Doyle offered hope for imported fruits and vegetables. “Certainly, you can grow produce that is free of pathogens in developing countries. It’s just a matter of sanitary practices and the quality of water that is used for irrigation.” 

Scripps Howard news wire took a different angle with its coverage, utilizing information provided within the report and incorporating it with additional viewpoints provided during the three-day conference. In the article, “Food-borne Diseases Seen Rising,” and its sidebar, “Protect Yourself in the Kitchen,” Expert Report contributing author Frank Busta reminded consumers to “Wash, scrub and peel (food) if necessary. Some of our consumers did not learn that, or have become lax and aren’t protecting themselves.” The news service followed this report with the article, “Organic Vegetables May Hide Pathogens,” reminding readers of the widespread use of manure in agriculture. Expert Report contributing author Lee-Ann Jaykus stressed that one step for preventing foodborne illness is to reduce pathogens on the farm. “But stopping all pathogens at the production level is not possible at this time,” she was quoted as saying, while urging common sense in the kitchen. 

In all, notice of IFT’s Expert Report has been published in or broadcast on more than 60 news outlets nationwide (and counting), including CNN cable television and radio in such markets as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati and on Dow Jones International news wire.

In July 2001, Food Technology published its Developing Foods Special Report on mycoprotein, and IFT’s promotion of the information contained therein, when combined with recent heightened interest in the meat substitute, recently resulted in broad exposure for IFT information and this publication. In response to a consumer advocacy group’s proclamation that the mycoprotein product, Quorn, is mislabeled and a potential allergen risk, Food Technology’s Developing Foods report was used—and referenced in print—by the Associated Press and The Washington Times as a significant source of reliable information.

In the Times article, Sanford A. Miller called the mislabeling claim “trivial,” and his opinion appears to have paralleled those of newspaper editors and television producers, as the AP and Times reports included more information on the perceived benefits of mycoprotein and less on the unsubstantiated claims against it. When CBS’s network news feed distilled, redistributed, and aired revised reports in New York, Orlando, Fla., and other markets, those claims were not noted. The Washington Times distributes nearly 100,000 papers daily.

Since IFT World Headquarters is in Chicago, it actively provides information to news media here, the nation’s third-largest market. Nowhere is this more obvious than during the first week in February. On the heels of IFT efforts to make local news outlets aware of the then-forthcoming Expert Report on food safety, CBS television affiliate WBBM-TV decided to produce a series of food safety–related stories for airing during the peak of the winter ratings period. Through IFT, this news outlet was directed to Charles Sizer and Peter Slade at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who provided videotaped comments on raw produce safety and foodborne illnesses. The reports, aired February 4 and 6, were seen in approximately 100,000 households each evening.

Media Relations Manager