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FMI Responds to '20/20' Supermarket Report

ARLINGTON, Va. — An ABC News report alleging unsanitary conditions at supermarkets and other negative accusations about the industry was reported superficially and unfairly, Food Marketing Institute said in a response to the program.

In a letter to the producers of the program, which aired on ABC’s "20/20" on Nov. 22, FMI’s Susan Borra, senior vice president, communications, noted that the segment “skimmed the surface” of the issues addressed, “and in so doing provided an incomplete, unsubstantiated and misinformed picture of each topic raised.”


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Without naming any supermarket companies, the program skipped between cautioning consumers about potentially unsanitary conditions — particularly on shopping carts and in the deli — and warning about marketing tactics, such as supermarkets spraying produce with water to improve appearance or placing certain products at eye level at the direction of manufacturers. The program quoted four individuals, including an attorney from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who issued warnings about germs on grocery carts and listeria in the deli.

“We could take the segment apart issue by issue, and in each case we believe ABC 20/20 failed to provide its viewers with content experts to substantiate the claims made by the program,” Borra said in the letter. “The segment revealed a shocking lack of fact-finding or research on retail food industry practices.”

FMI analyzed the social media activity in response to the program — which also included segments on bartending, veterinarians and trucking — and found that the report generated about 2,710 tweets from the Friday it aired until the following Monday, about 60% of which were checking in to the social media site and mobile app GetGlue.

The program issued several tweets related to the broadcast, including quotes from CSPI and statistics about sanitation. FMI found that the most shared tweets related to “germy" grocery carts (65 mentions), expiration dates (55 mentions), a quote from CSPI (52 mentions) and listeria (16 mentions).

FMI’s food safety partner, Partnership for Food Safety Education, contributed several tweets to the conversation, promoting safe cooking habits for consumers.

“As the voice of food retail, FMI constantly monitors and tracks social media,” Heather Garlich, a spokeswoman for FMI, told SN. “It’s imperative that we identify controversial or crisis issues that directly impact the reputation of the food retail industry.

“Just like any other media channel, we always want to offer resources in order to provide a complete picture on behalf of our food retailer and wholesaler members.”

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