Attack of the killer tomatoes

Attack of the killer tomatoes


This summer’s media-hyped “we’re doomed!” story is all about salmonella. It was just tomatoes, but now your entire Tex-Mex meal is in danger: fresh salsa, jalapeños, and cilantro. Of course, as with all these apocalyptic stories, there’s a kernel of truth. About 1,000 people have been sickened nationwide since May, reportedly from eating tainted tomatoes.

Today the Boston Herald reported breathlessly “3 more sickened as salmonella wave continues to plague state”. Does 3 count as a “wave”? Okay, 24 people in Massachusetts have been sickened since May. That’s more, but there’s a problem with the reporting of that number as well as the larger number of cases nationwide.

How does that compare statistically with the number of salmonella cases in previous years over the same period? Is that an increase? Is it a large increase? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. We don’t know because the reporter either didn’t bother to find out and tell us or the editor cut it out in order to keep in the apocalyptic hype.

A couple years ago, it was the bird flu that was going to wipe out half of North America. Then it was “mad cow” disease. Then shark attacks at our beaches. What will it be next year?

I don’t have a problem with the media reporting the salmonella problem; it’s in the public interest to know these things so we can be prepared. But what I could without is the hype of the “A common object in your home is giving you cancer right now. Details at 11” type. Exaggerating the problem to drive readership or viewership can have the effect eventually of “the boy who cried wolf” and cause a greater tragedy later.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. Photo is in the public domain.


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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli