Top 5 food-safety questions journalists should be asking
BY Dr. Douglas Powell
associate professor, food safety
dept. diagnostic medicine/pathobiology
Kansas State University
The editor of Nieman Watch at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University tracked me down in Florida a couple of weeks ago -- it's not hard, I'm always plugged in, zing -- and asked me to pen the following, which he greatly improved with some editing. Below, Powell's take on the top-5 food-safety questions journalists should be asking.
Food safety is not a trivial issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that up to 30 per cent of individuals in developed countries acquire illnesses from the food and water they consume annually. Active disease surveillance by U.S., Canadian and Australian authorities suggests this estimate is accurate.
WHO has identified five factors of food handling that contribute to these illnesses: improper cooking procedures; temperature abuse during storage; lack of hygiene and sanitation by food handlers; cross-contamination between raw and fresh ready-to-eat foods; and acquiring food from unsafe sources.
There has been some excellent media coverage of microbial food safety issues since the 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Jack-in-the-Box that killed four and sickened over 600; there has also been some terribly misleading coverage.
Reporters interested in covering this important story should be asking these five questions:
1. Will more government involvement mean fewer sick people?
2. Is local/natural/sustainable/organic/raw food really any better than other types of food?
3. Is that food safety advice really accurate?
4. With all of the attention, resources and talk, why hasn't there been a reduction in the estimated incidence of food borne illnesses in the past five years?
5. Why don’t producers, processors, and retailers market microbial food safety directly to consumers?
FOR ANSWERS TO THE FIVE QUESTIONS, GO HERE