James N. Klapthor

Old News Is Good News
This column features monthly the efforts of members of the Institute of Food Technologists who speak to journalists on topical food issues of the day, helping to drive content in news outlets and, most important, providing scientific perspective to the facts, fallacies, and assumptions that can permeate food news coverage.

It is the nature of news media to provide immediacy with their coverage. Unfortunately, comprehensive monitoring of the news media for successful placement of IFT information and IFT sources cannot be as accomplished nearly as quickly. Because of this lag, the remainder of this article will address successful placement of IFT expert food science commentary that appeared in major news outlets months ago, but confirmed only recently.

In early January, IFT headquarters and the Fox News Channel’s Internet component, FoxNews.com, tossed about the idea of covering product development and ingredient reformulation for an online article. What resulted was an extensive article on January 13 entitled “Professional tasters eat and drink for a living,” which relied heavily on the perspectives of Fred Caporaso, Chapman University, and IFT President Ann Hollingsworth.

Emphasizing that professional taste-testers ultimately determine that the food in stores is appetizing and consistent, Caporaso said, “These people are trained, just like you train athletes. You want someone with aptitude, whose tongue works a little bit better than average.” Hollingsworth declared that consistency is key. Companies, she said, “need to verify their products are the same today as a week ago and the same from plant to plant. A consumer wants to know that a package of potato chips bought today in Phoenix tastes the same as the ones they bought yesterday in New York.”

Caporaso reminded readers that not all taste-testing is champagne and caviar. He’s been asked to taste-test dog food because “humans can give an answer but the dog is just going to bark,” and pharmaceuticals. “I had a company that made a birth control product they wanted flavored. We tried a little bit of that, but it was challenging.”

FoxNews.com boasts 5.7 million unique visitors, with 28 page views per person.

The San Francisco Chronicle is one of many major news outlets that focus on issues involving food science, often drawing on IFT sources for insight into safety, functionality, and other topics of interest. In the January 25 article “On the job with San Francisco restaurant inspectors,” the Chronicle called on Linda Harris, University of California at Davis, to assess its research on restaurant safety in and around the city. Harris put into context what consumers consider, and may want to consider, when making quick judgments on whether to patronize a restaurant where cleanliness may be interpreted by cultural expectations.

“We all do our own little risk assessment when we go in,” she said. “Some people are more comfortable with certain styles of food preparation than others.” When entering what was described as uncharted territory, Harris advised, “Look for sanitation in and around the facility and the bathroom. [If the restaurant] doesn’t understand a clean and well-stocked bathroom, then I don’t have a whole lot of hope they understand the importance of sanitation in the kitchen.” An additional comment further in the article shed more light on the exhaustive efforts necessary to ensure food safety. “There is obvious dirt that should be a concern,” said Harris, “but it’s what you can’t see that can hurt you.”

As the U.S. West Coast’s third-largest newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle circulates nearly 500,000 newspapers daily.

Diverting attention, however briefly, from the United States mad cow revelation at the turn of the year, The New York Times focused on the more pervasive issue of foodborne illness as it relates to kitchen and food preparation cleanliness. Its January 28 article “Squeaky Clean?” utilized virologist Dean Cliver, University of California at Davis, for expertise. The Times soaked up details of Cliver’s research on kitchen cutting boards and cellulose sponges. “Somewhere along the line, wood got a bad name,” said Cliver, explaining conventional wisdom when choosing a cutting board. His studies have shown that, contrary to public perception, wood cutting boards act favorably on cross-contamination. “We’ve never been able to get the bacteria down in the wood back up on the knife to contaminate food later.” And when researching sponges, “We did soak sponges in some pretty bad things,” he explained, but “one minute in the microwave and that pretty much [disinfected] them.”

The New York Times circulates more than one million copies a day.

by JAMES N. KLAPTHOR
Media Relations Manager
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