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Food Journalism Follies: “Trader Joe’s Nuts Recalled”

Honestly… What was your first reaction to the headline quoted above? Yah. No kidding! But my second reaction was to question the origin of the obvious play on words. A bleary-eyed oversight? Or a mischievous ploy by a bored editor?

Trader Joe's Nuts - © 2024 - Food Safety News

I’ve been in the journalism business for almost 50 years. And I’ve seen many a hilarious headline faux pas. I usually just giggle and move on. But I was moved to write this post after reading the following headline on a story from Food Safety News (FSN):

Trader Joe’s nuts recalled after
testing finds Salmonella

Not what you thought

After that momentous build-up, the story attached to the headline turned out to be a standard, formulaic, editorially responsible ‘food recall’ notice.

“Wenders LLC of Dublin, CA is recalling specific production lots of Trader Joes Nuts – 50% Less Sodium Roasted & Salted Whole Cashews because of potential Salmonella contamination.

“The issue was identified through routine testing by Food and Drug Administration during import, which indicated that at least one of the recalled lots tested positive for the presence of Salmonella.

“The recalled product was sold at Trader Joe’s locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington.”

Classic style and structure

Even the headline was totally in line with the standard construction for a food recall piece. It was some of the individual words that made it such a hoot!

I’ve been in the writer’s shoes. And I can tell you, any real journalist tasked with that story would be bored to tears, and itching to burst forth with something truly refreshing in a ‘food recall’ piece. Food recalls are only a just above obituaries on the list of most-hated journalistic jobs. Tradition – and some publishers’ house rules – demand that food recalls be handled in a set way, which is designed to get all the pertinent information into the smallest possible space.

Not what you’d expect

Not what you would expect from a staid, serious trade publication. But…

That headline was, in one sense, exactly what the story called for. Straightforward and succinct. Tells the whole story in a few well-chosen words.

But did the writer intend the triple entendre they produced? The structure of the header is standard for a food recall story. But in this case, it’s fraught with naughty implications. What might the term ‘recall’ be a polite euphemism for? And what about the suggestions regarding Joe’s social predilections and hygene habits?

An unfortunate oversight?

It may have been a simple oversight on the part of the writer and their editor. After all, journalists just want to get food recall stories over with and move on to some real news. I could write the equivalent of the FSN story by muscle memory.

But I’d have thought somebody would have noticed the obvious language looniness the FSN News Desk unleashed. Or did the powers-that-be let it through intentionally?

Or a deliberate jest?

It’s also possible the headline was someone’s idea of a joke. Bored as they may be with food recalls and obits, there is sometimes backlash from writers who feel their talents are being wasted on such journalistic ephemera.

I recently shared with you an episode from December, 1980, when KFC founder Harland Sanders passed away. The notice came down the newswire just before 11 a.m., and my colleague, Johnny, was about to go ‘on air’ with the 11 O’clock Report. He tore the paper from the teletype and raced into the booth. And informed 19,000 Ottawa listeners that, “Colonel Sanders has kicked the bucket!”

You HAVE to read it

One thing is certain… After taking in that FSN headline, you just HAVE to read the attached story! It’s human nature. And I, for one, was secretly disappointed that the headline was where the fun ended.

My take

I’d like to know what the anonymous writer – the story is datelined, simply, ‘News Desk’ – was thinking. If they were thinking at all. I’d like to think that they had a ‘Johnny’ moment, and let the headline loose intentionally, in a playful gesture. Something to relieve the boredom and satisfy an inner need to do something ‘creative’.

I also wonder if the writer had, in their back pocket, the notion that a ‘catchy’ headline might draw more readers into the story? Readers who might otherwise pass it over as boring and commonplace. After all, food recalls are serious business; something we should all be aware of.

Finally, I must take a moment to commend the writer for turning out a perfect example of the ‘standard’ food recall story. Even when they’re bored, tired and humiliated by having to write a food recall piece or obit, a true journalist will always toe the line, and bring the story home in the form and style their editor expects.

~ Maggie J.

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