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Interesting email from an MNB user considering the tomato-salmonella story that is all over the media these days…

I was wondering about your opinion on Food Safety and the Media. Although there are plenty of companies that need to follow rules to prevent any food borne illnesses, I also think the media blows everything out of proportion resulting in drastic reactions from consumers that ultimately hurts businesses and the economy….when you think about additional food safety requirements that consumers don’t want to pay for at shelf.

When do consumers take some responsibility for themselves….i.e. if you are on chemo or an older person and susceptible to food borne illnesses, why isn’t it partly the responsibility of these people to wash or cook their food more thoroughly? Also, where are the comparables? When 100 people get sick from tomatoes, why doesn’t the media say that MILLIONS of tomatoes are consumed every day, and as a result, not an imminent threat to your health?

If there is actually a real threat, why aren’t cars banned? They kill far more people every day than any salmonella or listeria outbreaks, yet every time a car crashes, Ford doesn’t get sued….or Chevy or Toyota…. What about cigarettes? Alcohol? Drunk drivers are known threats to society, but somehow the responsibility is placed on the individual and not the alcohol companies. Everything needs to be put into perspective and it isn’t. I would give the media more credit if they reported both sides of the perspective and then let consumers decide the level of risk they would like to take.

In the end, I don’t think there is one company out there that wants anyone to get sick from their products. There is no intention or malice, but the sue-happy world we live in seeks out any opportunity to magnify a situation if it means someone can make a buck. In the end, we all lose because soon no one will be willing or able to pay for the preventative measures that may or may not be necessary for overall food safety.

You’re not going to be happy with this response, but I think the media generally does a petty good job communicating about food safety issues. Not every media outlet, of course, and not every reporter. But generally speaking, I’m not sure what the media could do better.

It strikes me as self evident that if there have been 145 cases of salmonella poisoning, for example, that means that millions of people didn’t get it. Not sure that fact needs to be reported. (And I didn’t in my story this morning.) And I think there has been plenty of coverage of the relative risks involved in some of the other behaviors you mentioned.

One good point – that the media probably needs to do a better job communicating about food safety at home. Most food safety problems happen after the product has been bought and taken from the store, and we could all do a better job in this area.

Here’s the rub. I would never want to be the reporter or editor who did not run the story about a food safety issue on the theory that it might hurt a business or generate a lawsuit. Because if that story stops one person from eating a product that might hurt him or her, it was worth it.

The media can legitimately be blamed for mistakes of fact and judgment. It probably is because I consider myself to be in the media, but I don't agree with your premise or conclusion.

Regarding Wal-Mart’s public role in a recessionary economy, one MNB user wrote:

I know you know this…but inflation and recession are two, albeit vicious, economic animals…AND let’s not anoint Wal-Mart as savior quite yet. Their extreme control of prices to serve their consumers has led to severe hardships on their vendors and their vendor’s vendors in many countries in this world, including ours. While they have made great strides in becoming a good corporate citizen – their sustainable practices towards their vendors is still lagging – which impacts considerably more individuals than they have customers…

Another MNB user wrote:

Wal-Mart and the Walton family have "always" been great for the country. The issue has been that some city "leaders", politicians and unions have gone out of their way to say untrue things about the company. By doing so the have prevented the company from entering their city or state and in the long run have hurt customers and potential associates. One of Wal-Mart greatest leaders, David Glass often said " don't do thing in the good times that you wouldn't in the bad…”

Yesterday we reported about a lawsuit filed by Nebraska Beef against a church that bought its product for meatballs and then ended up with numerous people getting sick; the company maintains that the little old ladies who made the meatballs didn’t use proper food safety techniques and that it is being unfairly blamed for the illnesses.

I commented that it didn’t seem like a good idea to ever sue a church or little old ladies, which led one MNB user to challenge me:

What makes you think you "should never sue a church"? A church is just a building with people in it . . . people capable of doing very bad things. Ever heard of Catholic priests?

And little old ladies are as capable of being rotten to the core as anyone else.

Point taken.
KC's View: