In yesterday’s New York Times, Andrew Martin says he’s gotten used to the idea that hamburgers can make people sick but it never occurred to him to worry about frozen dinners. Until now. Customers who got sick from eating ConAgra pot pies contaminated with toxic Salmonella were told it was their own fault. They should have done a better job of following the directions for cooking the pies. Martin convincingly demonstrates the absurdity of that idea. If you want to eat frozen meals, he says, you had best zap them to pieces and use a thermometer. But why not argue that ConAgra should do a better job of making safe products in the first place? Hasn’t the company ever heard of HACCP? Why isn’t it following standard food safety procedures to keep harmful microbes out of food? If ever there was a situation ripe for a lawsuit, this one is it. I’m not the only one who thinks so, apparently. The lawyers are already on the case. It should be an easy win.
I’ve just been sent this article about a Kaiser Foundation/Scholastic video game designed to teach kids about healthy eating. It’s in the form of a detective story–”Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective.” The article points out the irony of using video games to teach about diet and activity, but never mind. I can’t figure out how to make it work on my new computer so I haven’t tried it. Is it worthwhile? Useful? Fun for kids?
Representative Edward Markey (Dem-MA) is making trouble for food companies who market to kids. He wrote letters to a bunch of companies asking them to cease and desist using cartoon characters or marketing to kids under age 12. The results? Some said yes, some said no. Among the “no’s” are Dannon (so much for Stonyfield), Nestle (no relation), and Yum! This, in turn, has led to consternation in the food industry, with much concern that if companies don’t comply with such requests, they will leave the industry open to regulation. Marketing to kids is the food industry’s Achilles heel. When it comes to kids, companies cannot argue personal responsibility. It will be interesting to watch Markey on this one.
Yesterday’s USA Today carried an article on the latest word on food safety from the excellent Julie Schmit (who, along with Elizabeth Weise, deserves a Pulitzer for their outstanding reporting on the pet food recall and on food safety issues in general). Here we go again with outbreaks of the nasty E. coli 0157:H7 from meat produced by Topps, which had to recall nearly 22 million pounds of hamburger and promptly went out of business, and Cargill, among others. As I discussed at length in my book, Safe Food, we know perfectly well how to produce food free of harmful pathogens. If companies aren’t doing it, it’s out of ignorance, laziness, or greed. We do not have a farm-to-table food safety program in this country. We need one. How many more incidents of this type must we go through before Congress makes public health a priority? This is an issue for Congress. Start lobbying…
I am indebted to Greg Miller of the National Dairy Council for sending me the latest fact sheet on dairy myths from the American Dietetic Association. Usually, the Association’s fact sheets have predictable industry sponsors. This one doesn’t seem to but I certainly can understand why the Dairy Council wants it widely circulated. See what you think of it.
Michele Simon (Appetite for Profit) reminds me that Kid Power is inviting everyone in the marketing-to-kids industry to attend its next conference–”Kids Food and Beverage 2008.” This is the group that teaches companies how to sell directly to children and gives prizes for companies that do that well. The website gives reasons why you must attend. Note that for this group, overweight, food allergies, digital technology, and a growing ethnic population create new marketing opportunities for the food and beverage industries.
Dennis Whalen, a marketing executive in San Francisco, forwards this link to a speech given in 2004 by Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker writer and author of the Tipping Point and other best sellers. How do food marketers decide what sells sodas and spaghetti sauce? Gladwell’s answer: in ways that make people happy. Really?