Background
On Sept. 15, 2006, the U.S.Department of Agriculture announced that consumers should not eat bagged spinach due to contamination with Escherichia coli 0157:H7 ‐ potentially fatal illness can result. There were basically no U.S. fresh spinach sales for 5 days and spinach from the production area in California was off the market for 10 more days. In all, 204 people known to become ill across 26 states and Canada, 104 were hospitalized, 31 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (severe kidney failure) and three died.

Objective
• Analyze and discuss the print media coverage of the spinach/ E. coli. contamination event in the United States in September of 2006.
• Recognize the utility of print media analysis as a means to study food safety issues, including public and policy responses and communication planning. Methods In this study, we quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed print media coverage of the contamination of spinach with E. coli between Sept. 15, 2006 and Oct. 15, 2006. We first selected a judgment sample of 11 newspapers in the United States reflecting a range of local and national newspapers close to the contamination site in California and across the country. The sample includes the top four U.S. newspapers by circulation level and consists of four California newspapers, two New Jersey newspapers, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the St. Louis Post‐ Dispatch.

Results
We analyzed the articles for a range of factors including the sources of information, the presence of scientific information, readability, and thematic trends.

Conclusions
In this instance, newspapers were not the place to find ‘what to do’ information. Many articles were written at a level that would make them challenging to many Americans to fully comprehend. Articles mainly focused on health threats and the investigation while responsibility and blame was mainly placed on the food industry. While scientists were given almost unquestioned authority, it appears that government official and events influenced the agenda and journalists maintained control of the framing of the articles.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Scared off spinach?
An analysis of selected print media coverage of the Spinach/E. coli incident in the United States, 2006

Andrew Pleasant   Rutgers University

Sarah Condry   London School of Economics

Mary Nucci   Rutgers University

Marley Skinner   Rutgers University

Background
On Sept. 15, 2006, the U.S.Department of Agriculture announced that consumers should not eat bagged spinach due to contamination with Escherichia coli 0157:H7 ‐ potentially fatal illness can result. There were basically no U.S. fresh spinach sales for 5 days and spinach from the production area in California was off the market for 10 more days. In all, 204 people known to become ill across 26 states and Canada, 104 were hospitalized, 31 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (severe kidney failure) and three died.

Objective
• Analyze and discuss the print media coverage of the spinach/ E. coli. contamination event in the United States in September of 2006.
• Recognize the utility of print media analysis as a means to study food safety issues, including public and policy responses and communication planning. Methods In this study, we quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed print media coverage of the contamination of spinach with E. coli between Sept. 15, 2006 and Oct. 15, 2006. We first selected a judgment sample of 11 newspapers in the United States reflecting a range of local and national newspapers close to the contamination site in California and across the country. The sample includes the top four U.S. newspapers by circulation level and consists of four California newspapers, two New Jersey newspapers, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the St. Louis Post‐ Dispatch.

Results
We analyzed the articles for a range of factors including the sources of information, the presence of scientific information, readability, and thematic trends.

Conclusions
In this instance, newspapers were not the place to find ‘what to do’ information. Many articles were written at a level that would make them challenging to many Americans to fully comprehend. Articles mainly focused on health threats and the investigation while responsibility and blame was mainly placed on the food industry. While scientists were given almost unquestioned authority, it appears that government official and events influenced the agenda and journalists maintained control of the framing of the articles.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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