Food recalls dominate top stories of 2007

When asked to recall the top food stories of the year, food editors overwhelmingly responded that 2007 will be remembered as the Year of the Recall, according to a report by PRNewswire

When asked to recall the top food stories of the year, food editors overwhelmingly responded that 2007 will be remembered as the Year of the Recall, according to a report by PRNewswire.

In a recent survey of the country’s top food editors, the national recall of more than 90 brands of popular pet food topped the charts as the No. 1 food-related story of 2007, followed closely by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recall of over 21 million pounds of ground beef and the peanut butter recall by ConAgra Foods, Inc.

The fifth annual year-end survey was conducted by Hunter Public Relations, one of the nation's leading public relations agencies serving the food and beverage industry. Based in New York, Hunter Public Relations reached out to more than 900 magazine and newspaper food editors across the country and asked them to pick the top ten food-related stories of 2007.

The government was involved with more than just recalls in the food industry this year. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempts to change the way New Yorkers eat ranked as the No. 4 story of 2007. Since his appointment to office, Bloomberg has not only attempted to get rid of trans fat and to force large restaurant chains to post calorie counts; his most recent initiative seeks to assist those New Yorkers who need the most help. Bloomberg's recent efforts involve working with the City Council to get more low-income residents to sign up for food stamps and finding ways to get healthy food to people who live in neighborhoods with no grocery stores.

There was something fishy about the No. 5 story of the year. The Food and Drug Administration's decision to restrict imports of five kinds of farm- raised seafood from China raised concerns about the overall safety of imported foods. Investigators found that popular imported seafood -- including shrimp, catfish and eel -- was contaminated by low levels of a powerful antibiotic called chloramphenicol. Chinese exporters were given the task of proving that their products were not contaminated with any residues of the drugs used in fish farming, while the FDA stepped up the sampling of imported shrimp and crawfish products in response to consumer wariness.

Food editors were intrigued by Americans' growing desire to drink their vitamins and beverage companies' quick responses to make the dream a reality. Coming in at No. 6 was the proliferation of nutrient-fortified sodas, juice, teas and flavored waters on store shelves.

In addition to already existing fortified products like Diet Coke Plus, Coca-Cola Co. is planning on adding vitamins and fiber to its bottled water brand Dasani, and PepsiCo Inc. is already offering SoBe Life Water (enhanced with four B vitamins) and is planning on launching its zero-calorie sparkling Tava drink - infused with vitamins and chromium -- in 2008.

The rash of recalls in 2007 left Americans wondering about the source of the food at their local supermarket. Despite a law stating that all food products must carry labels that clearly state the country of origin, the meat, produce and nuts at most local stores quite often lack this information. Americans' concern for this topic led the country-of-origin labeling controversy to come in at No. 7. This dilemma will likely be resolved in the coming months as Congress rewrites the farm policy and deals with the more widespread concern that, according to the Progressive Policy Institute, more than 98 percent of imported food is never inspected by the USDA or FDA.

An interactive partnership between the FDA and the Cartoon Network left parents grinning. Coming in at No. 8 is the online-based program on the Cartoon Network's website that teaches kids ages 9 to 13 how to read food labels. In addition to offering information on serving sizes and calories, this program educates children on foods high in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar and encourages kids to consume more foods with potassium, fiber, iron, and calcium. The FDA is planning on expanding this initiative and launching a campaign next year geared at reinforcing the same messages for parents.

The bottled water controversy, fueled by environmentally conscious consumers and awareness groups, splashed into the No. 9 slot. The $15 billion business is under fire for the negative impact its 38 million plastic bottles (which are made with 1.5 million barrels of oil annually) have on the environment. The media attention has led some to question the need for a convenience product that is both costly to the consumer and the environment and, in many cases, is just purified municipal tap water.

Finally, wrapping up the list at No. 10 is news that food in McDonald's wrappers wins with kids. A study had youngsters sample identical McDonald's foods in name-brand and unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test. Even vegetables placed in the McDonald's wrapper consistently scored higher than those placed in plain packaging.

In addition to picking the top ten food stories of 2007, those surveyed were asked what they believed food companies should make their number one priority for the coming year. A whopping 59 percent of respondents wished to see food companies reduce the amount of sodium content in their products. Using more local ingredients was also a highly ranked priority.