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Help readers make sense of food recalls

Recalled sausageYou think Toyotas with rogue throttles are scary?

Try Pringles with salmonella.

Over the past few days news of another possibly widespread food recall has broken, and your readers will be wondering how it affects them.  While you’re at it, you might want to develop a broader piece on food inspection, retail and restaurant inspection and other health-and-safety business angles.

First, the news du jour.  A Las Vegas company called Basic Food Flavors Inc. – maker of a plethora of, well, food flavoring additives, has voluntarily recalled many of its hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) products lest they be contaminated with salmonella. Some companies, like Pringles-presser Procter & Gamble, are erring on the side of caution and pulling products from shelves.

Here’s a list of the recalled additives by product number and lot number; you’ll need to contact the company or a local food distributor for help translating the list to actual product types and names.  (Or, you could comb the various categories on the Basic Food Flavors site and attempt to match them up that way.)

Apparently the problem with the possibly tainted additives – which flavor a number of convenience food items, from dips to hot dogs to dressings and soups – has been suspected since February.  Last week, the Food and Drug Administration made it official; here’s the press release  with contact info and a list of consumer-friendly links.

One link, FoodSafety.gov, includes a news rail featuring links to the press releases of companies who use Basic Food Flavors products and are thus performing voluntary recalls.

Obviously, you’ll want to monitor the list in case local food manufacturers are involved.  Check with makers of similar goods, check with grocers, food wholesalers, restaurants and restaurant supply companies about the scope of the recall, the costs and any possible shortages.  You’ll also want to tell readers if and how they’ll be reimbursed for recalled goods, and by whom.

Also think qui bono?  (Who benefits?)  Maybe local hot-dog makers and nearby dairies will be ramping up production of French onion dip and franks to compensate for disruption at other brands.

The eFoodAlert.com blog, for example, is an excellent source of food-safety information and offers a number of helpful links.   So does Recalls.gov, which includes links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Keep on top of this story; remember how subtle the start of the pet-food recall was, and how huge it turned out to be?  Same with Toyota, for that matter.  Plus food has an immediacy that other products don’t – everyone eats, and exploring the facets to this issue can prompt some excellent packages about the business of public health.

In this time of budget cuts, for example, does your state have enough food inspectors?  Here’s a timely study  from the Pew Charitable Trusts, out last week, suggesting that food-borne illnesses cost the U.S. $152 billion a year.  Be sure to click on the interactive map for data specific to your state.

Another story that readers will devour: an analysis of restaurant or grocery inspections.  Some years ago, Detroit Free Press writer Alison Young did an extensive report; I still remember the avid interest it generated and its compelling readability.  If you’re an IRE member, here’s a link to a related IRE tipsheet Ms. Young prepared.

In Beats, Economy, Featured, Health care, Investigation, Personal finance, Retail | Lifestyle, Small | Private | Non-profit, Story ideas.

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