Asked to recall the top food-related stories of 2008, food editors focused on issues with global significance. The sixth annual year-end survey, conducted by Hunter Public Relations (www.hunterpr.com) reached out to more than 900 food editors and bloggers across the U.S.
The biggest food story of the year was the rise in food prices around the world due to high oil prices, growing demand, lower food reserves and unexpected weather patterns Close behind was China's tainted milk scandal, which began in August 2008 after tests indicated that China's leading dairy companies produced milk containing the industrial chemical melamine. Tainted baby formula was responsible for killing six infants and causing harm to tens of thousands of individuals. Recalls of milk-based products made in China spread to dozens of countries, including Britain, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. The salmonella outbreak in raw tomatoes took the No. 3 spot. FDA officials warned consumers about the salmonella, which was said to have infected 145 people and caused at least 23 hospitalizations in 16 states.Other top stories include: Supermarket Chains Offer More Locally Grown Food: Wal-Mart plans to spend $400 million on locally grown foods in 2009, making it the largest player in the locally grown market; New Labeling Laws: The USDA implemented new labeling laws requiring retailers to include country-of-origin labeling for produce, meat and chicken products; Big Food Companies Adopt Nutrient Standards: As part of the "Smart Choices Program," many of the country's largest food and beverage companies agreed to use the same logo on their packaging to denote products meeting certain nutritional guidelines. Current participants are Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Kellogg, PepsiCo and Unilever; Jalapeno Peppers Test Positive for Salmonella: More than 1,200 people across 44 states contracted salmonella poisoning from jalapeno peppers, prompting the FDA to issue a nationwide warning; Paul Newman Dies: Legendary actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, one of the founders of Newman’s Own, passed away; NYC Restaurant Regulations: New York City issued a trans fat ban across all restaurants. Additionally, a judge ruled that all NYC restaurants with at least 15 outlets nationwide must post calorie count information; and New Levels of Alarm Associated With High Salt Intake: The FDA is considering the removal of salt from its list of GRAS foods.
Survey participants were also asked what they thought food companies should make their No. 1 priority for the coming year. In line with the economic crisis of 2008, editors overwhelmingly believed that food companies' top priority should be offering budget-friendly meal options.