Safety trumps top food stories of 2011

Asked to rank the top food stories of 2011, 1,000 Americans put the listeria outbreak that caused 29 deaths at the top of the list, and food inflation third, according to Hunter Public Relations, which commissioned its 9th annual survey, reports Marketing Daily.

Respondents ranked the recall of millions of pounds of salmonella-contaminated ground turkey at No.4, and Congress's passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act at No. 6. Food safety issues have been rising up the list in recent years, confirms managing partner Grace Leong. "These used to be ranked at the bottom, but the growing number of outbreaks is generating increasing concern," Leong says. "And most of these outbreaks are occurring in produce and other fresh foods -- the foods that the nutrition experts are urging us to eat more of."

Top 10 stories, in the exact words used in the survey (wording was "ripped from the headlines," plus the percentages who chose each story as being the most important, include: Twenty-nine deaths caused by cantaloupe listeria outbreak (53 percent); First Lady Michelle Obama with USDA unveils MyPlate, which replaces food pyramid (38 percent); Global food prices reach record high (37 percent); Millions of pounds of ground turkey recalled (36 percent); Restaurant menu labeling to become law in 2012 (31 percent); Food Safety Bill passes (30 percent); and Nutrition labels move to front of food packages (23 percent); Doctors argue that government can put obese children in foster care (23 percent); General Mills sued for marketing fruit snacks as "healthy" (16 percent); and USDA lowers pork cooking temperatures (13 percent).

Respondents were also asked questions about how food news coverage is affecting consumers' behavior. Fully 61 percent said they had changed their food habits in some way during 2011 as a result of food news coverage. Of those, 45 percent said they had decided to cook and eat more at home, and 29 percent said they are now paying more attention to the nutritional value of foods in restaurants. As for 2012, 67 percent report that they will make food-related resolutions, and nearly half (47 percent) say these will include eating more whole grains and drinking beverages with less sugar. In addition, 14 percent of U.S. adults say they will incorporate less meat in their diets, and 21 percent say they will pay more attention to labels on packaged foods.