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Chapter 16 : The Media and the Message
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Most sites offer their readers automatic notification of new recalls, either by e-mail or by RSS ("Really Simple Syndication") feed or both. Reporting on food recalls is only one facet of the media’s impact on food safety. Consumers rely on news media for information on how to handle foods safely, suggestions for prevention of food-borne disease, and clear, accurate explanations of the science underlying these issues. “Stronger bacteria threaten nation’s food, study warns,” was the headline of a story that appeared in the Houston Chronicle in February 2002. The body of the article, however, told a slightly different--and more accurate--story. The article summarized a report issued by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) on food-borne pathogens. The phenomenon of headline inflation is not limited to the U.S. media. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), like many government agencies around the world, issues regular reminders to the public on how to cook, handle, and store foods safely. The USDA website contains information for consumers, including information on how to use a meat thermometer to determine that food has been cooked thoroughly. The website states clearly that, in order to prevent cross-contamination, a meat thermometer must be washed with soap and water before and after each use. Websites sponsored by universities and professional organizations also are good sources of reliable information. However, in recent years, USDA has altered the focus of its ground meat sampling program, eliminating the sampling of meat from retail stores.