NEW YORK, N.Y. — Food health and food safety stories topped the list when Americans were asked which were the most memorable food stories of 2009, according to the seventh annual year-end survey commissioned by Hunter Public Relations.

The three most memorable food-related stories of 2009 are:

1 Food-safety concerns — The biggest story of the year was the issue of food safety. From E. coli in ground beef to salmonella poisoning in nuts, thousands of Americans have been sickened, prompting food recalls of everything from baby food to green onions.

2. Newly poor swelling lines at food banks — Stories related to the weak economy played a prominent role in 2009. The second-biggest story of the year was the increase in demand at food banks, with food pantries opening their doors to rapidly expanding numbers of hungry Americans. Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity, reported that requests for emergency food assistance rose by 30% in 2009.

3. Consumers cut food spending sharply — Americans sharply curtailed spending on food by dining out less, opting for generic products over brand names and choosing to cook at home more. This has significantly hurt sales and profits at many food processors, grocery chains and restaurants.

A HealthFocus International study indicated that nearly three-quarters of American shoppers showed a higher level of concern about the cost of groceries this year.

This decade has undergone a dramatic transformation in the way Americans shop for, eat and think about food. When Americans were asked to recall the top food stories of the decade, nutritional concerns and food safety captured the top spots. Americans voted the following as the three most memorable food-related stories of the decade:

1. Childhood obesity — With the number of obese schoolchildren continuing to grow each year, childhood obesity became a major national concern. Food companies are being urged to develop products that are more nutritious and to review and revise their marketing practices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16% of American children — more than 9 million — are obese.

2. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy — Americans felt that B.S.E., which first hit the United Kingdom in 1993 and has infected more than 189,000 cattle to date, was one of the most significant food stories of the decade. By October 2009, the human strain of the disease had reportedly killed 165 people in Britain and 44 in other countries. As a result of finding B.S.E. in the U.S., 65 nations implemented restrictions on importing U.S. beef products.

3: Rise of food safety concerns — Food safety was one of the biggest issues of the decade. Millions of consumers were sickened from E. coli or salmonella poisoning in their foods and hundreds of worldwide recalls have been issued.

Hunter PR enlisted Wakefield, an independent market research firm, to survey 1,000 Americans aged 18+ via an email invitation and online survey. Results of the sample are subject to sampling variation. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.