• When the federal government proclaimed Colorado-processed ground beef and Washington-packaged romaine lettuce as the likely sources of dozens of cases of foodborne illnesses across the nation, IFT members were called into action by news media scrambling to give their audiences details on food processing and Escherichia coli O157:H7.
Two contributing authors of IFT’s recently published Expert Report on Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues fit the bill. Michael Doyle, University of Georgia, told the Los Angeles Times, “As long as we have harmful microorganisms being carried by animals, and food handlers who may be infected by various pathogens and don’t wash their hands, we’re going to see foodborne illnesses.” Peter Slade, Illinois Institute of Technology, told the newspaper that inspections of meat plants for E. coli bacteria cannot ensure complete safety. “You can never take enough samples to have an absolute guarantee unless you check the entire lot, which isn’t economically feasible.” These comments by Doyle and Slade appeared in the article, “Foodborne Bugs Slip Through Safety Net,” published August 5. The Los Angeles Times is the nation’s third-largest daily newspaper, with more than 1 million copies printed daily.
• Whether fortified foods are all they claim to be was the topic of choice of the Chicago Tribune in the July 7 article, “Fortified foods may not enrich your diet,” which relied on insight by Clare Hasler, University of Illinois, and Marion Nestle, New York University. The article immediately set upon the difficult task of defining what is a functional food, and used a comment by Hasler to make a determination. “Herbs are not . . . controlled and standardized in capsulized form. It’s ridiculous to think they fit into our food supply,” she said. “I’m not saying don’t consider taking herbal supplements, just don’t use food as your source.” Nestle preferred the term “designer foods,” saying it “refers to foods and beverages that have been enriched or fortified with vitamins, minerals . . . even wood-pulp derivatives to go beyond the nutritive value of the foods themselves.”
Hasler identified some products that are proven positive developments for health-conscious consumers. Calcium-fortified orange juice, she said, “meets the needs of women who for whatever reason don’t get enough calcium in dairy products.” Hasler added, “We are also finding calcium is likely to help protect against colon cancer, regulate blood pressure and reduce symptoms from premenstrual syndrome.”
The Chicago Tribune boasts a daily circulation of 600,000.
• The idea of buying and drinking raw milk may seem unbelievable to some, but is still a practice along the Atlantic seaboard, according to The Washington Times, which ran an article on the illegal sale of unpasteurized milk on June 5. The article, “Got Milk?” utilized commentary by Scott Rankin, University of Wisconsin. Providing the scientific perspective to the argument for and against distributing unpasteurized milk, he confirmed the claim by a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration that unpasteurized milk may contain pathogens and is a public health concern. “There is no arguing,” Rankin was quoted. “There are tons of studies that denote the prevalence of pathogens in raw milk supply.” And to refute claims within the article that unpasteurized milk is more nutritious, he said, “I haven’t seen a sound study out that pasteurization reduces or influences the health-imparting factors in milk.” The Washington Times circulates more than 100,000 newspapers daily in and around the nation’s capital.
• Acrylamide research originating in Europe and spread by the reach of international news media and the speed of the Internet is proving to be a recurring theme among health reporters, even at major news outlets within the United States. And, as is often the case, those reporters are relying on IFT Food Science Communicators to supply rock-solid perspective to the issue. This began in earnest in June, when research findings declared this toxicant prevalent in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures.
Carl Winter, University of California, Davis, and Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine, were promptly busy responding to inquiries by the Associated Press, Time magazine, and others (see IFT Newsmakers, June 2002, p. 129). Interest has not waned. On July 16 in the New York-based daily paper Newsday, Winter stressed the importance of keeping proper perspective in the face of uncertainty. “One of the important things is to consider that we’re not talking about an imminent hazard,” he said. “I would put this (concern) in the category of ‘much ado about something we need to know more about.’” On July 29, Winter was called upon by the San Francisco Chronicle to provide more perspective on the subject. He was clear and concise in his assessment of consumer fear of eating popular foods such as bread and breakfast cereals that may contain levels of acrylamide. “Eating may be associated with some risk. But not eating is always fatal,” said Winter. The San Francisco Chronicle has a daily circulation of 525,000, while Newsday circulates more than 575,000 papers a day.
by JAMES N. KLAPTHOR
Media Relations Manager