Twitter is one of my news feeds, and Sunday it did not disappoint:
Just when you think Florida has run out of ways to push the envelope https://t.co/vtqhOF9yb3
— John McQuaid (@johnmcquaid) April 9, 2017
By tradition, news stories are supposed to answer the questions who, what, when, where, why and how. We call it the 5 Ws and 1 H. Or the six Ws (yeah, I know).
Using that formula, here’s what we can learn about the bat story by reading The Guardian, NPR, a company news release, and the Centers for Disease Control news release. (There’s another story in that string, but not for today.)
- Who: Walmart and Fresh Express; two unnamed consumers; government agencies: the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Florida Department of Health
- What: a package of Fresh Express Organic Marketside Spring Mix was allegedly contaminated with the remains of a dead bat
- When: Saturday
- Where: This event occurred at a Walmart in an unnamed city in Florida. Affected: Walmarts in the southeast (states not named / update: Miami Herald has the answer. AL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, VA).
- Why – not touched upon
- How – not touched upon
But there are additional questions a story might trigger in the mind of a reader or listener.
Here’s what’s missing for me:
- Who owns the Fresh Express brand?
Chiquita, and it’s headquartered in Orlando, FL.
- What steps would be required to contaminate a bag of lettuce in an automated packaging facility?
Fresh Express missed an opportunity here. Surely they have video documenting health and safety in production. Put that in the news release.
- What states are part of the “southeast” in the context of this recall?
Because there is no universally accepted definition of what “southeast” means.
- Update: The Miami Herald has the answer
Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia
- Update: The Miami Herald has the answer
- When was the package purchased?
If I live in the “southeast” and buy organic salad at Walmart, this detail would help me decide if I need to check my fridge.
- Where was this lot of Fresh Express Organic salads assembled?
The company website shows five manufacturing locations. The closest facility to Florida is in Morrow, GA. Others are located in Grand Prairie, TX; Harrisburg, PA; Salinas, CA; and Steamwood, IL.
- Where are the greens grown?
The company website shows 13 farming locations. It’s not obvious which ones use organic growing processes. Are greens shipped across the country to other processing plants or are they packaged in the plant closest to the farm? There is a farm in south Georgia and one in southeast Florida.
- Where are bats common in the United States? Are they common near the packaging facility (Q3)?
Georgia is home to 16 species of bat but each does not live in every county.
- Why might anyone do this deliberately? Has the company been involved in labor disputes recently?
“Who benefits” is a fundamental question when seeking an answer to “why.” Deliberate food adulteration is probably not happening in a vacuum.
- Why are the consumers unnamed?
They may have asked to remain anonymous, which would merit a note. Agency officials may have asked that their names not be released, which might be a policy if there was any possibility of a hoax (removing perverse “credit”).
- How big are bats?
Bats account for 25% of all mammals, and their size can range from that of a penny to a six-foot wing span. The most common bat in Georgia that lives in artificial surroundings (buildings) is about 3″ in length.
- How did the customers contact Florida health officials?
An opportunity for the agencies involved to promote their consumer help pages/apps/phones.
- How might an assembly line be tampered with to create an adulterated product?
Opportunity for general food safety missed by all.
- How might a production facility (farm) wind up with a dead bat in its product?
Bats eat insects; as such, they are an important part of an organic farming operation. That’s called organic insect pest management. Last month, Atlanta’s WSB-TV reported that bats in the state are “dying at an alarming rate.” If the produce came from a Georgia or Florida farm, it’s possible that the dead bat entered the manufacturing cycle at the farm, either accidentally or intentionally. Again, missed opportunity for Fresh Express to highlight food safety.
- How do officials determine if claims like this one are hoaxes?
I have a background in food production (milk/butter) and have toured a lot of food processing facilities, both domestically and abroad. I’m having a hard time visualizing how a bat accidentally entered the manufacturing line.
What’s missing for you?