Pardon the threatening and exaggerated title, I was just trying to entice readers to click the link and read this article – and clearly it worked. Apparently that’s what media outlets (ahem did someone say News Limited?) are all about these days. It’s a trend called clickbait and it involves creating captivating and often misleading headlines that intrigue readers and focus on getting them to click the link – the currency of digital journalism.
The ‘toxic tuna’ ‘food poisoning scare’ involved 7 people falling ill after eating ‘contaminated’ tuna salads at Soul Origin on George Street. The 7 people showed symptoms of scombroid poisoning – symptoms such as skin rash, itching, dizziness, headaches and in some cases nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The symptoms appear soon after eating the fish, usually last for 4-6 hours and can be treated with an antihistamine. The headline ‘7 people fall mildly ill from random fish poisoning’ doesn’t get clicks however, so unsurprisingly that title is nowhere to be found.
This incident triggered a sea of dramatic articles that look in to the Thai processing plant where the fish was originally canned, and which relate this incident to other completely unrelated issues. This, my dear readers, is what we call a moral panic.
The Sydney Morning Herald chastises officials for only checking 5% of the shipments of imported canned tuna at the border, even though John Bull tuna had been reduced to the minimum level because of the good compliance history of its manufacturer. Rather than then outlining this as a rare and uncharacteristic incident, the SMH quotes a Greens agriculture spokeswoman (obviously someone at the very centre of the incident who has an in depth knowledge of everything involved) as saying it is a “massive concern” and “severely impacted the health of Australians.” If a bit of itchiness and nausea counts as severe and 7 people represent all Australians, I’d be interested to see how Senator Siewert would react to legitimate health concerns.
The Daily Telegraph proceeded to run ‘investigations’ into the Thai processing plant behind the tuna. Their findings? – shanty towns in Bangkok are quite dirty, and Bangkok seafood markets have piles of fish in them. Cheers for the completely unrelated images that add hype to your story Daily Tele.
The Courier Mail also uncovered some groundbreaking information through their investigation – a tuna processing plant is ‘smelly’ and ‘messy’! Pretty sure you could have asked any one of my schoolmates who sat next to me at lunch that question and they would have given them the same response. They also create lots of rubbish, mainly tins! And apparently the back yard of the plant “evokes chaos” – I mean I wasn’t there but rubbish cages stacked on top of other rubbish cages seems fairly orderly to me.
The Courier Mail also connected the incident to the wider issue of child migrant workers in Thailand. Although this is a concerning problem which deserves a lot of media coverage, adding it to the end of this article only makes this particular supplier and manufacturer take more of the blame and it trivialises an important and separate issue.
Many of the stories also compare this food poisoning incident to the frozen berries from China which were linked to more than 20 cases of hepatitis A last month. Pardon me if I’m missing something but I’m pretty sure that’s a different product from a different country inducing a different illness? Oh right but it happened to people in the same city within a short timeframe, which obviously means we’re all going to die from food poisoning!
Food Authority test results released to the importer of John Bull Tuna, Victorian company FTA Food Solutions, said “all cans tested from the batch of John Bull tuna supplied to a Sydney café, where a number of people became ill, are all clear and fit for human consumption”.
An FTA Food Solutions spokesperson said, “It is possible for histamine levels to rise due to cross-contamination with histamine causing micro-organisms after a can is opened.” So basically the rise of histamines which caused the illnesses could have nothing to do with the thai processing plant, the supplier or manufacturer and was likely a rare accident.
The only place I managed to find this information? In the WA Today, which I’m sure has a very high number of readers from Sydney, the city where the incident actually took place.