Recalls wreak havoc, but safety sells

At the grocery store yesterday I found jars of Kroger peanut butter stacked nearly waist-high on display at the end of an aisle. Curious, I circled the display, thinking I might find a sign saying “Does not contain Salmonella” or something to that effect. There was no such ad.

Why aren’t the makers of safe peanut butter bragging about it?

K-LOVE is always in the background when I do my writing.

While one of the K-LOVE news anchors was updating listeners on the Peanut Corp. salmonella outbreak, the DJ mentioned he put off buying a jar of peanut butter at the grocery store the night before. He felt it wiser to wait.

Peanut Corp., the FDA, and several snack manufacturers—including General Mills and Kroger—have warned against eating products made with peanut butter and/or peanut paste produced by Peanut Corp.

FDA may not be entirely sure what products those are, but has said many times,

"We don’t have concern about the national, name-brand peanut butter that’s sold in jars at supermarkets and retail outlets."

Consumers are wary anyway.

Part of the problem could be the misleading images (such as the graphic above by ABC News) put forth by the media.

It could just be that recalls are scary.

After the Maple Leaf listeria outbreak, Canadians cut back on deli meats of all brands and even stopped buying hot dogs. People defensively avoided anything recognized to support the growth of listeria.

People value safe food.

If given a compelling story of how companies and industries identify and control risks, they might make different buying decisions.

Facing a recall without superhero senses leaves some vulnerable to confusion

I don’t like fresh tomatoes. Generally, my careful avoidance of them is a fairly unique practice. At least, I thought so until I met Bret. We stand together in our quest for vegetables that don’t leak acid on the rest of the salad.

We were on our honeymoon when the outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in tomatoes and/or hot peppers hit the news. Many people joined our stance on tomatoes then… but it took me a while to realize it.

Since I wasn’t reading FSnet while we were gone, I had to hear the warnings put out on eating tomatoes like a regular consumer would. It was like my superhero senses were turned off.

At the time, I wasn’t in the habit of watching the news. And according to the results of a Rutgers Food Policy Institute (FPI) survey,

“The majority of respondents (66 percent) first heard about the advisory on television.”

Throughout our trip, we ate at cafes, buffets, and casual dining establishments. When we didn’t eat out, we stopped at Wal-Mart for cereal and sandwich supplies. None of those places showed signs of produce being recalled.

The survey found,

“A small minority (8 percent) first heard about it from restaurants and retailers.”

As it happened, some of the first news I received came from my step-dad’s mom, who understood the problem to be in tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.

Hearing through the tomato-vine was problematic, though. I later learned the CDC advised,

“…persons with increased risk of severe infections…should not eat raw Roma or red round tomatoes other than those sold attached to the vine or grown at home…”

Those two words, “other than”, were missed (or misunderstood) at some point in the chain of communication that ended with me.

Lead author of the Rutgers FPI report, Dr. Cara Cuite said in a press release,

“Our results suggest that consumers may have a hard time taking in many details about these types of food-borne problems.”

Almost half (48 percent) of people surveyed indicated they were not sure which types of tomatoes were under suspicion.

I was back at superhero headquarters (i.e. in front of my Mac) when Salmonella Saintpaul was found in a sample of jalapenos from Mexico, and again when the outbreak strain was isolated from a Mexican serrano pepper and the water used to irrigate it.

Most consumers weren’t so lucky. From the survey,

“The researchers found that while almost all respondents (93 percent) were aware that tomatoes were believed to [be] the source of the illness, only 68 percent were aware…that peppers were also associated with the outbreak.”

Dr. Cara Cuite commented in the press release,

“This research is especially timely in light of the growing number of recalls as a result of the Salmonella outbreak associated with peanut butter and peanut paste.”

How can consumers be better informed? One practice seen in both outbreaks that helped alleviate some confusion was the use of club membership or “loyalty card” information to contact customers who had recently bought recalled products.

What else can be done to clear things up? After all, regular consumers don’t have superhero senses.