The issue of food safety was the biggest food story of the year, according to an annual year-end survey commissioned by Hunter Public Relations.
Food safety concerns hit the headlines in a big way back in January, when a multi-state salmonella outbreak was traced to the Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) peanut processing plant in Georgia. The outbreak led to more than 700 illnesses and was linked to nine deaths across 46 states. It also sparked the biggest food product recall in US history, as it emerged that PCA’s peanut ingredients had made their way into thousands of foods made by hundreds of companies.
Hunter PR enlisted independent market research firm Wakefield to survey 1,000 American adults about the most memorable food story of 2009. Food safety came out top – followed by increased demand at food banks, and rapidly cut levels of consumer food spending.
Stories about food safety concerns have been ubiquitous in the United States during 2009. As the year progressed, the high-profile salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products was followed by other outbreaks – in cookie dough, green onions and baby food for example – but the PCA story continued to dominate headlines as further details emerged, including questions about whether the company’s president knew that products contained salmonella but chose to ship them anyway.
(Click here for FoodNavigator-USA.com’s interactive timeline tracking the story.)
In turn, the story then triggered questions about how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) handled the situation, and whether it had the tools to deal with it. This came to a head when ten food industry representative bodies, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Frozen Foods Institute, among others, took the highly unusual move of appealing to Congress to overhaul the US food safety system – or risk losing America’s reputation for safe, high quality food supplies.
Since then a clutch of food safety regulation has been brought forward, including the Food Safety Enhancement Act that passed the House in July, and the Food Safety Modernization Act that is currently awaiting a full Senate hearing after the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee gave the bill its approval last month.
If passed, the bill would require food companies to submit detailed food safety plans, give the FDA the power to order product recalls, and allow it greater access to company records.
An estimated 76 million Americans are sickened as a result of foodborne illness each year, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other stories making the top ten most memorable food news events of 2009 included the pork industry's battle with swine flu concerns, health experts’ soda tax proposals, and Michelle Obama’s healthy eating agenda.