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2012 Reader’s Choices: Most Popular Food Safety News Stories

Editor’s Note:  With only a few days of 2012 remaining, it’s time to take a look back at the year.  That’s what we will be doing today and tomorrow. We are going to begin with your choices for 2012, those stories that drew the most readership at Food Safety News.  

We are calling these the 2012 Reader’s Choices and tomorrow we will follow up with the Ten Most Important Food Stories for 2012.  The stories (or series) that were the most popular were not always the same the as those we find most important, but they are not that far apart.

1.  Diamond Pet Foods Recalls: Consumers Want Answers

Salmonella from dog food sickened owners and created a mild panic among pet owners, setting them on a hunt for more complete information than they were getting elsewhere. We published several stories about the Diamond Pet Foods Recalls, and it was this Q&A by our frequent contributor Phyllis Entis made them our most read stories of the year.

2.  Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Outbreak and Recall

The outbreak and recalls that led to the shutdown of the nation’s largest organic peanut butter plant produced many hits, just as past instances of peanut butter contamination have. Readers followed every step of the developing story, including Sunland’s recall of all brands it produced going back to 2010, FDA’s findings of contamination inside the plant and the Salmonella Bredeney outbreak that infected 42 people in 20 states before it was declared over on Nov. 30.

3. Chicken Jerky Pet Treats Made in China

Our package of stories on the chicken jerky pet treat scandal, which were causing Fanconi-like syndrome in dogs, also gained huge readership from pet owners who organized on the internet and recommended Food Safety News as a reliable source of information.

4. Jimmy John’s Drops Sprouts

A combination of Jimmy John’s customers and sprout growers and eaters must have contributed to the popularity of our Feb. 20 report that the gourmet sandwich franchise operation was permanently dropping sprouts from its menu. However, we were getting reports from customers by year’s end that sprouts were back at Jimmy John’s, where sprouts have caused five outbreaks in the past four years.

5. The Tuna Scrape/Sushi Salmonella Outbreak

When a product few people know about, in this case tuna scrape,  turns out to be contaminated with two serotypes of Salmonella – Nchanga and Bareilly - readers are bound to be curious. By July 26, bad Sushi containing the tuna scrape was responsible for 425 illnesses and 55 hospitalizations. Investigation of the 28-state outbreak was so drawn out and complex that some victims likely never knew what had sickened them.

6. Tests Show Honey Isn’t Honey

Our honey investigation by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Andrew Schneider was published in late 2011, but continued to pile up readers in 2012.  Honey testing for Food Safety News revealed that pollen is often filtered out of products sold at retail as honey in the U.S.  And once the pollen is gone, there’s no way of knowing if the honey came from legitimate and safe sources, since pollen acts as a footprint for the sweet substance.

7. Brown Rice Syrup Puts Arsenic in Organic Foods

Our report on the research by Dartmouth College showing that rice syrup, used as a substitute for the often-chastised high frustose corn sugar in many organic foods, could be dangerously raising arsenic levels, was popular reading.

8.  Red Meat Allergies Caused by Tick Bites

Summer had barely begun when Gretchen Goetz caused many readers to squirm over her report about how tick bites cause people to get red meat allergies. Since the story was published, dozens of readers have written to Food Safety News reporting that they have suffered from red meat allergies after being bitten by ticks.

9. Burch Farms Recalls Cantaloupes for Listeria Contamination

After a Listeria contamination involving cantaloupes in 2011 led to the most deadly foodborne illness outbreak in a century, readers were on alert for any similar development in 2012.   Luckily, North Carolina’s Burch Farms got an early warning and acted quickly.

10.  The Controversy Over “Pink Slime.”

Lean finely textured beef, manufactured by South Dakota’s Beef Products Inc., was tagged with the moniker “pink slime” several years ago, but the term was the catalyst for one of the biggest media events involving food in 2012, and Food Safety News was cited by many as a trustworthy source following the controversy.

Stories on four other topics also drove high numbers of readers, just not enough to make it into the top ten.  Backyard chickens spreading Salmonella and the threat of poison hemlock in the garden were high as individual stories.   We’ve also seen the meter move on all our reports on state legislative action regarding raw milk and so-called “Ag-gag” laws.

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