Media minces ‘tuna scrape’ coverage
By SeafoodSource staff
11 June, 2012
This past March, numerous media reports claimed dozens of people had been sickened by salmonella-contaminated yellowfin tuna meat used in a popular sushi roll. By April, the foodborne illness outbreak had stricken more than 250 people in 24 states, and the salmonella source was traced to food producer Moon Marine, which then recalled 58,828 pounds of frozen Nakaochi Scrape, a.k.a. “tuna scrape” and “tuna back meat.”
With the beef industry’s “pink slime” crisis still in Americans’ minds, common industry argot like “tuna scrape” suddenly acquired a sinister ring made permanent not only in traditional media coverage, but social media sharing and commentary. (As Time magazine writer Melissa Locker wrote, “Now that we’ve got [pink slime] out of our system, prepare to get hysterical over pink slime’s fishier cousin, tuna scrape.”)
Unaware the meat used in their spicy tuna rolls wasn’t born of pristine loins, some diners were appalled upon learning the flesh was harvested by scraping traces of it from tuna carcasses. Fueled by the very real and growing food-poisoning outbreak, a connection based more on fear than fact was made (tuna scrape equaled unappetizing “nasty bits,” and nasty bits can make you sick) and further reinforced by endless discussion in traditional and social media channels. The irony was inescapable: An essential character in the cast of exotic ingredients that led to America’s love of sushi for decades was now making diners question consuming any raw fish — partly because of the actual but arguably low danger of food poisoning, and partly because long-used food production jargon was deemed unappetizing, though catchy in headlines. As lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) was shortened to “pink slime,” tuna back meat was similarly dubbed “tuna scrape.”
Icky as their trade names may sound, even a superficial study of both products reveals that the use of tuna back meat and LFTB are safe, government-approved food production practices. But experts who monitor how people perceive and react to heightened public discourse about formerly not-discussed subjects say news saturation amplified by social media repetition can lead new and truthful revelations of accepted practices to become false crises.
Why? Because any perceived threat to one’s health is significant to any human, says David Ropeik, a risk-assessment expert and Harvard University lecturer. Author of the book, “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts,” Ropeik also spent 25 years as a TV news reporter.
“Part of why these messages spread so quickly is related to whether that content suggests you could die,” says Ropeik. “When a message like the ones we’re talking about here contains that kind of a threat, it gets way more attention than a label on a can that tells you what’s inside some food.”
Click here to read the full story from the June issue of SeaFood Business >
11 June, 2012