Bumble Bee Foods, the makers of the popular Bumble Bee Tuna brand, not only had to deal with a national recall of its product earlier in the week but, shortly following the announced recall, also had to weather the public relations storm of rumors surrounding the possibility of human remains contamination of the tuna itself. Although the allegations were primarily disseminated online, it should be noted that the originating reports were found to be definitively untrue, with sources such as a couple of fake news websites. In short, the stories of Bumble Bee Tuna being recalled due to human remains contamination are hoaxes.
Snopes, the pre-eminent urban myth and conspiracy theory investigating website, reported March 20 that the allegations of human remains appearing in cans of Bumble Bee Tuna were primarily the work of two fake news generating websites, News 4 KTLA and The Racket Report. As with most urban myths, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes, what is misleading or untrue is intertwined with aspects of what is true or factual, giving whatever is reported a certain level of credibility, making it more believable to its potential audience.
With the Bumble Bee Tuna recall, the fake news websites produced a story conflating the true and tragic 2012 incident of a Bumble Bee Foods employee, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, being cooked to death in a sterilization oven at a California processing plant with the also true story of Bumble Bee Foods issuing a national recall of a portion of its product last week due to a “process deviation” in its sterilization procedure, which was later explained as a mechanical failure.
The misleading or hoax element of the stories, of course, was injected by alleging that the 2012 accidental oven death of a processing plant employee (or the implication of a much more recent death by similar circumstances), prompted the voluntary national recall of Bumble Bee Tuna products, as reported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on March 16, arcing over three UPC codes and 12 “best buy” dates.
In fact, the tuna recall concerned a processing facility operated by Tri-Union Seafoods in Georgia, a co-pack plant which is under contract to Bumble Bee Foods. The two companies issued separate statements concerning the reason for the voluntary recall that read alike, according to CNN.
“These deviations were part of the commercial sterilization process and could result in contamination by spoilage organisms or pathogens, which could lead to life-threatening illness if consumed.”
A day later, Tri-Union Seafoods, which is actually a Chicken of the Sea Tuna processor, issued a voluntary recall through the FDA for 2,745 cases of that brand’s chunk light tuna in water and chunk light tuna in oil varieties. John DeBeer, vice president of Quality and Compliance for Chicken of the Sea, said that a malfunctioning “machinery part” was discovered during a routine inspection and replaced.
The recalls were made due to fears that the malfunction may have occurred during the processing of the tuna allotments named in the recall announcement. Without proper sterilization, the canned tuna is susceptible to quick spoilage and possible contamination could occur.
As Snopes reported, one of the websites promoting the human remains story, The Racket Report, was easily discredited in that the site admits in its “About Us” page that it at times produces fictitious material. Although News 4 KTLA does not offer a disclaimer, Snopes noted that the site is an entertainment website that generates non-factual content.
To recount: The recent voluntary national recall of Bumble Bee Tuna was not in any way due to the possible contamination of the tuna product by contact and/or commingling with human remains. The reported connected events, as revealed by the hoax and urban mythbusting website Snopes, occurred more than three years apart and in processing facilities owned by different companies and separated by an entire continent. The stories, created and presented through fake news websites, were conflations of the true events into cause-and-effect sensationalist hoax articles where the implications, the potential for consumers to purchase and eat the product, were and are decidedly false.
[Image via Bumble Bee Foods]