Header graphic for print
Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Food Poisoning Watch

Subscribe to the Food Poisoning Watch Section RSS Feed

A Bad Combination – Listeria and Ice Cream

blue-bell-300x213I did spend some time this week talking to the media about Listeria and Ice Cream – not a great combination.

  • It’s not unusual to see listeria outbreaks linked to dairy products, including ice cream, said William Marler, an attorney who represented victims of a 2011 listeria outbreak that killed 33 people and was traced to a Colorado cantaloupe farm.
  • Mr. Marler said he thought Blue Bell had responded appropriately once it knew its products were linked to illnesses and deaths.
  • The lack of overt sympathy for the victims, which now includes three in Texas, irks attorney Bill Marler, of Seattle- based Marler Clark, one of the nation’s top food safety attorneys. “The only criticism I really have for Blue Bell is they seemed so focused on themselves and less on the people that had gotten sick,” said Marler, who also publishes the Web site foodsafetynews.com.
  • “Likely what happened is the piece of machinery was contaminated. The liquid form of the ice cream goes through the machine when it’s not yet frozen, but around 40 degrees, and it’s a great place for [listeria] to grow,” speculated food safety lawyer Bill Marler.
  • Listeriosis, a food-borne illness, can be especially fatal for people with weak immune systems. It is carried by the bacteria, listeria, which can thrive even at refrigerator temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s why it’s a problem for cooler foods like ice cream and cheese,” says Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer in Washington state.
  • A lawyer who specializes in representing victims affected by Listeriosis, tells KAKE News there are two reasons to be worried about the spread of the bacteria after a Wichita hospital has been linked to five cases and three deaths. Bill Marler of Seattle has represented dozens of Listeriosis victims, including Kansas residents from the 2011 outbreak caused by cantaloupes that killed 33 people. He says these cases are becoming more common because people are filling their fridges with frozen items.
  • “We’re doing a lot more ready to eat products that are kept in cool temps,” says Marler.
  • He says another reason for concern about the outbreak is it can take up to 70 days from the time you eat the product, to when you get sick. “Listeria is it’s a bug that loves refrigerated, cool environment,” says Marler. “So that’s why you see the outbreaks involving things like cold products like ice cream.”
  • While this outbreak has been traced back to Blue Bell products consumed at Saint Francis, Blue Bell items were also sold at convenience stores. Marler urges everyone clears their freezers of the the contaminated products. “Because this is a frozen product, it’s really important for those who receive this product, and it appears that most of it was institutional, they need to get it off the shelf, out of the freezers because what you don’t want to see happen is something to stay in there and 6 months from now that someone eats it again.”
  • It’s not unusual to see listeria outbreaks linked to dairy products, including ice cream, said William Marler, an attorney who represented victims of a 2011 listeria outbreak that killed 33 people and was traced to a Colorado cantaloupe farm.
  • Attorney Bill Marler is a partner at Seattle-based Marler Clark, also called “The Food Safety Law Firm.” He said it generally does not take a year for a pattern of Listeria-related infections to surface. “The time line seems incredibly long …in my opinion, but could be the fact that the product was frozen,” he said. “Getting the product out of freezers is critical. People who purchased recalled products need to check freezers.”

Botulism Alert in New Mexico and Texas

7492253_G-300x225The New Mexico Department of Health is cooperating with the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on an investigation of two patients who are hospitalized in Texas with suspected botulism. The source is currently being investigated but is likely contaminated food. The patients are two adults from Lea County.

Botulism is a rare but potentially fatal illness caused by a nerve toxin that causes paralysis. All healthcare providers should consider botulism in patients presenting with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Double vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle weakness/descending paralysis
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath

If untreated, these symptoms may progress to cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles, arms, legs, and trunk with subsequent death. Physicians should consider the diagnosis if physical examination suggest botulism.

The New Mexico Department of Health recommends:

  • If you or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms listed above immediately seek professional medical care.
  • All clinicians be alert for cases of botulism and consult New Mexico Department of Health for all suspect cases.
  • Report any suspect case to the Department of Health 24/7/365 at: 505-827-0006 so that antitoxin can be obtained as soon as possible if indicated.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Botulism outbreaks. The Botulism lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Botulism and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Botulism lawyers have litigated Botulism cases stemming from outbreaks traced to carrot juice, pesto sauce and chili.

New York Raw Milk Hit With Listeria Again

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today warned consumers in Sullivan County and the surrounding area not to consume unpasteurized raw farm milk from the Richard Dirie Farm due to possible Listeria contamination.  The Dirie Farm is located at 1345 Shandelee Road, Livingston Manor, New York, 12758.

A sample of the milk, collected by an inspector from the department’s Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services on April 7, 2015 was subsequently tested by the Department’s Food Laboratory and discovered to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

On April 9, 2015, the producer was notified of a preliminary positive test result. He volunteered to suspend raw milk sales until the sample results were confirmed.  Further laboratory testing, completed on April 15, 2015, confirmed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the raw milk sample.

This is the second time in seven months that the state Department of Agriculture and Markets found the bacteria in the farm’s raw milk. It was also found in October, said owner Richard Dirie. But he says they were able to correct the problem – an issue with the water valve controlling the water’s temperature – fairly quickly.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, cancer patients, elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. People who are otherwise healthy may suffer only short-term, flu-like symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

It is important to note that raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization, which eliminates all pathogenic bacteria, including Listeria.

For more information on raw milk, see Real Raw Milk Facts.

Listeria Hysteria? Not When There Are Recalls And Illnesses

What is Listeria and Why Worry?  Listeria monocytogenes is an organism, which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Listeria Hummus: On April 8, 2015, Sabra Dipping Co., LLC announced that it was recalling approximately 30,000 cases of its Classic Hummus due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The recall was limited to five SKUs of Classic Hummus sold nationwide.

The products being recalled were distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts and supermarkets, in the U.S. Consumers can find code and use by dates on the top of each package. The potential for contamination was discovered when a routine, random sample collected at a retail location on March 30th, 2015 by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

To date, there have been no reports indicating that these products have caused any illness.

Listeria Ice Cream: On March 23, 2015, Blue Bell Ice Cream recalled 10 frozen snack items because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The FDA found Listeria bacteria in samples of Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Country Cookies, Great Divide Bars and individually packaged SCOOPS. Seven other products made on the same production line were also recalled: individually packaged Sour Pop Green Apple Bar, Cotton Candy Bar, Almond Bar and Vanilla Stick Slices and 6 pk Cotton Candy Bars, 6 pk Sour Pop Green Apple Bars and 12 pk NSA Mooo Bars.

Also on March 23, 2015, Blue Bell Ice Cream recalled three 3 oz. institutional/food service ice cream cups- chocolate, strawberry and vanilla with tab lids because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. On March 22, the Kansas Department of Health & Environment reported one positive test for Listeria monocytogenes on a chocolate institutional/food service cup recovered from a hospital in Wichita, Kan. This cup was produced in the Broken Arrow, Okla., plant on April 15, 2014. These cups are not sold thru retail outlets such as convenience stores and supermarkets.

On April 3, 2015, Blue Bell Creameries suspended operations at its Broken Arrow, Okla., plant to thoroughly inspect the facility due to a 3oz. institutional/food service chocolate cup that tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes and was immediately withdrawn from all outlets. That product was only available to Blue Bell’s food service and institutional accounts and was recalled along with 3oz. vanilla and strawberry institutional/food service cups. On April 4, 2015, Blue Bell began working with retail outlets to remove all products produced in Broken Arrow, Okla., from their service area. These products are identified with a code date ending in O, P, Q, R, S or T located on the bottom of the carton and they are a part of the market withdrawal. On April 7, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notified Blue Bell that the Banana Pudding Ice Cream pint tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. This pint was produced in the Broken Arrow, Okla., plant on February 12, 2015. Subsequently Blue Bell recalled all products made on that one particular production line, from February 12, 2015 – March 27, 2015. These products were produced on that same line and have a code date ending in either S or T.

To date, there have been eight reports indicating these products have caused illness and contributed to three deaths.

Lucky Peach – Marler – Attorney, Lawyer, Food Safety Advocate

marlerAttorney Bill Marler has won more than $600 million for clients since he and his partners formed Marler Clark in 1998. Marler rose to fame—or notoriety, if you’re a food producer—in 1993, when he successfully litigated a series of suits against Jack in the Box on behalf of children who contracted E. coli from eating the fast food joint’s tainted beef. Undercooked hamburger patties contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 (“the nasty form,” Marler points out) sickened more than seven hundred people in five states, killing four people and hospitalizing hundreds—mostly kids. Investigations revealed that Foodmaker, Inc., Jack in the Box’s parent company, had been warned about undercooking patties by health departments, but decided to continue the two-minute cook time for business reasons, and to maintain a better texture. Marler resolved cases for more than one hundred victims.

Bill Marler isn’t a lawyer with a focus on foodborne illnesses: he is the foodborne-illness lawyer. Marler Clark owns twenty-eight different websites, from Food Safety News to Listeria Blog. In a 2011 case involving Listeria in cantaloupe, Marler represented fifty of the sixty-six claimants. In a 2006 spinach-based E. coli outbreak, he represented 104 of 105. There are other lawyers out there who take on similar cases but, according to Marler, “there aren’t four lawyers in the world that have as much experience” in the field as the core attorneys of Marler Clark. “Twenty-two years into this,” Marler says, “I’ve taken tens of thousands of cases. Some outbreaks might have a hundred people, or some twenty. I can say I’ve been involved in every major foodborne-illness outbreak that’s occurred in the U.S. since 1993.”

See full article By Naomi Tomky March 24, 2015 with Illustration by Celeste Byers

Future Food 2050 – Chat with Food Safety Lawyer William Marler

The ‘simple’ solution to safer food – Making the food system less complex could be key to cutting down on food contamination, says veteran food safety attorney William Marler.

CYNTHIA GRABER: This is Cynthia Graber reporting for FutureFood 2050. Food safety in the U.S. is still a huge issue today. According to the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention (CDC)], 48 million Americans a year are sickened by foodborne illnesses, which leads to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. In addition to the loss of life, the government estimates the cost from such illnesses in the billions of dollars in terms of lost wages and productivity and medical expenses.

William Marler is a well-known lawyer whose practice, Marler Clark, is called The Food Safety Law Firm. He’s won a number of key lawsuits that have advanced food policy in the U.S. In one of his most famous, he won a landmark case for victims of E. coli contamination from hamburgers purchased at Jack in the Box restaurants in 1993. I asked him about the current state of food safety.

If I got to be the guy with the magic wand, I would do exactly with salmonella what the government did with E. coli 20 years ago, and I would say that you can’t have salmonella in chicken. And industry would adjust.”

—William Marler

WILLIAM MARLER: There’s a lot of things going on sort of simultaneously. I mean, you know, these bugs are constantly evolving. They’re dealing with more virulence than we’ve seen—you know, especially in bugs like antibiotic-resistant salmonellas and Listeria. These are kind of bugs that we didn’t see 30 years ago, so you have to really look a lot at how food is produced and then balance that against, you know, a growing world population. And it does make it very complex. And then when you add on to that 25, 30 years ago, you know, you couldn’t get bananas certain times of the year. Now you get them whenever you want them. And so food’s coming in from all over the world. So, I mean, it’s a global food economy. It’s difficult to control, and human beings are not necessarily the best at dealing with very, very complex problems. And the food system has become incredibly complex.

GRABER: So what do you think some of the biggest holes in the system are, both here and overseas?

MARLER: I think we really have to ask ourselves about how complex do we really need to make food. Do we really have to have bagged salad 12 months of the year? I mean, you look at the outbreaks that have occurred—the large outbreaks. They’re usually in highly processed products that are shipped long distances. So when you’re trying to figure out ways to make your food supply safer, sometimes simpler is better. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that local organic grown products are not going to sicken you if that local farmer is not using good manufacturing processes. But the more a product is manufactured, remanufactured, shipped, and you having cold-chain issues and keeping things hot or keeping things cold, it just makes for the entry of a bacterium or a virus into that process that can cause people to get sick.

GRABER: So based on what you said, it seems like there are a few different things. You mentioned kind of too many steps in the processing and the cold chain in which, you know, bugs can kind of grow and proliferate. Is it also an issue that there aren’t enough inspectors or that there are no repercussions for, um, food safety issues?

MARLER: Let me, let me give you an example. If you look at Food Safety Inspection Service, which is the FSIS, it’s the USDA, it’s the meat side of the food equation, um. That was a entity that really grew up, you know, at the post-Upton Sinclair “The Jungle.” And, and you have an inspector in every plant. And they’re public employees and they’re in the plant. They’re monitoring what’s going on, um. But yet we still had the horrific E. coli outbreaks in the ’90s and, you know, early part of the 2000s, even though that product was being inspected. But we had not brought sort of the new technologies of testing meat and test-and-hold and, and interventions to get E. coli off the meat.

Those things still had not been sort of implemented. Once those things got implemented, you know, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in, in the number of E. coli cases linked to red meat and hamburger. And that’s a good thing. The FDA side of the ledger is, you know, everything else. It’s fish. It’s vegetables, cereals, you know, and imports—non-meat. They don’t have inspectors, and some of the worst foodborne illness outbreaks that I’ve been involved in, the plants that I got court orders to go into, had never been visited by an FDA inspector, ever. And so we’ve created this sort of enormous food manufacturing industry, all of which really has sort of come about post-World War II. And we really don’t have sort of the level of inspection that is, I think, required even though we still mandate companies to do food safety planning and testing and, you know, recall.

I really feel strongly that you’ve got to have a public employee in the plant or at least inspecting the plants on a regular basis. And that’s just a real failure on the part of, you know, our government to do that and, frankly, the taxpayer to pay for it.

GRABER: You mentioned technology. Are there technological innovations or developments that you think, you know, that you see coming down the pipe that will help make consumers safer?

MARLER: There’s always new interventions and innovations. You know, we’ve seen that once the government made the decision that you could not have E. coli in hamburger, the industry figured out a way to try to eradicate it, and they did it by a variety of interventions, um, and cleaning up the process of the slaughter plant. And again, we’ve seen O157, that nasty form of E. coli, just almost disappear from the meat side of the equation.

And that’s…again, it’s a great thing. So I really think what needs to happen is industry and government need to set goals of zero tolerance for these bugs in food and then, you know, let innovation happen. And they can happen. We’re seeing the ability to trace products, you know, when we know there’s a problem either through barcodes or even some really interesting innovations about putting inactive DNA in products. So if there’s a, an outbreak, you can link it immediately back to where the source is. But, you know, what it really, really comes down to, in my view, to create a food safety system is to really try to simplify the number of steps so you limit the opportunity for bugs to be introduced and human error to occur.

GRABER: So what’s the role for public policy in this? Are there changes in policy that we need that can also help keep us safer?

MARLER: Again, I think simplifying things as opposed to making things more complex, at least in my view, makes it easier for humans to do the right thing. Presently, you know, we have somewhere between a dozen and 20 different organizations in government that have some level of oversight for food. And it gets really difficult when you think about, you know, the cheese pizzas overseen by FDA, but cheese pizza with sausage is overseen by the USDA, and fish is overseen by FDA except for catfish, which is overseen by USDA. So one of the things that I think needs to happen, you know, is a really hard re-look at how we regulate things. You know, I think USDA has done a great job. FSIS has done a great job in how they regulate meat. FDA through the Food Safety Modernization Act is sort of taking those first steps. But part of the ongoing problem is, you know, cross-jurisdictional issues between FSIS and FDA.

You know, in a perfect world, I’d certainly like to see, you know, one single agency that was specifically charged with…focused on, you know, like a laser on making our food supply safe.

GRABER: I’m wondering what you think will be the biggest food safety challenges in the decades ahead.

MARLER: Well, I think it’s going to be, you know…more food is going to be imported, so there’s going to be greater distances. Either it’s going to be a lot more pressure, I think, as the population gets larger. There’s going to be a lot more pressure on businesses to produce food potentially cheaper and, you know, we may have pressure to, you know, sort of put food safety to the side. And I think that would be sort of wrongheaded.

So I think those are things that we really have to pay attention to make sure that don’t happen, you know, as we’re paying attention to things that come around the corner.

GRABER: So you had great success with E. coli contamination cases. And since the lawsuits, there have been changes in the food system in terms of beef and improvements in health. But there doesn’t seem to be the same political will today. There are still high rates of salmonella in raw chicken. It seems that there’s been a challenge in passing the same types of legislation that made beef so safe.

MARLER: Um, yeah. I mean, that’s why I still have a job. There’s certainly more to do, and if I got to be the guy with the magic wand, I would do exactly with salmonella what the government did with E. coli 20 years ago, and I would say that you can’t have salmonella in chicken. And industry would adjust. They wouldn’t like it, but they would adjust. And, you know, in the long run, the industry would be better off. Consumers would be better off, and I wouldn’t have anything to do.

GRABER: But that’s not happening yet.

MARLER: Not yet.

GRABER: That was William Marler, a food safety lawyer with Marler Clark. Thanks for listening to this podcast for FutureFood 2050. More information on this subject can be found at www.futurefood2050.com. I’m Cynthia Graber.

1,500 Exposed to Hepatitis A at Casa Di Pizza

CASA-DI-PIZZA-MULVILLE-01-625x375Perhaps Casa Di Pizza should have vaccinated its employees?

WIVB Buffalo reports that the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center drew a crowd of hundreds of pizza lovers Monday, looking for protection against possible exposure to hepatitis A.  Casa Di Pizza, a popular Elmwood Avenue restaurant in Buffalo, had a server diagnosed with the disease on Friday. The Erie County Health Department encouraged 1,500 patrons to receive vaccinations if they ate at the restaurant or banquet room between March 9th and March 19th — Monday they vaccinated 766 people. The bar and take-out service were not involved with the server in question.

WIVB also reported on inspection records at Casa Di Pizza going back to 2013 that showed the business has been cited for violations before.

·       In September 2014, health department inspectors cited Casa-Di-Pizza for 6 violations, including one critical for food not maintained at proper hot holding temperatures. A follow- up inspection later in the month found no violations;

·       In February 2014, inspectors cited the business for eight violations, including two critical. Again, food not maintained at a proper hot holding temperature was cited. A follow-up inspection in March found no violations;

·       In August 2013, the restaurant was hit with eight violations, including six critical. Once again, food not maintained at a proper hot holding temperature was among the violations listed. A re-inspection the following month found no violations;

·       In April 2013, inspectors acting on a complaint found one violation for adequate hair restraint not used by persons in food preparation area. A follow-up inspection three weeks later found no violations.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Hepatitis A outbreaks. The Hepatitis A lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Hepatitis A and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Hepatitis A lawyers have litigated Hepatitis A cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of sources, such as green onions, lettuce and restaurant food. The law firm has brought Hepatitis A lawsuits against such companies as Subway, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Quiznos and Carl’s Jr.

Hepatitis A Vaccines Urged For Pizza Patrons

Today, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein to announce two precautionary public health clinics being held by the Erie County Department of Health (“ECDOH”) in response to the recent identification of the hepatitis A virus in a local restaurant worker, a server at Casa di Pizza on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. The point-of-distribution (“POD”) clinics will allow ECDOH to provide post-exposure prophylaxis (“PEP”) to prevent infection to individuals who may have been exposed.

“The county is activating these response clinics to ensure any dining room patron who may have been exposed to hepatitis A can speak to qualified health care professionals about their chance of being infected and receive an immunization shot if necessary. It is another example of how our Department of Health safeguards the public’s health,” said Poloncarz. “While the risk of transmission is low, anyone who may have dined at the restaurant during the time in question should check their immunization status and come to the clinics if necessary.”

Dine-in patrons of Casa-di-Pizza during a specific time frame may have been exposed to hepatitis A virus,” stated Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Commissioner of Health. “Customers in the restaurant or banquet rooms are considered potentially exposed, not individuals who ordered take-out food or consumed food or drink from the bar. The risk of actually acquiring a hepatitis A infection from consuming food or drink at Casa-di-Pizza is extremely low,” emphasized Dr. Burstein. “Persons who have already completed the hepatitis A vaccine series are not at risk of developing hepatitis A virus infection from this potential exposure.”

Persons Who Dined in & Consumed Food/Drink from Casa-di-Pizza — only on the dates  below — are Candidates for Hepatitis A Vaccine or Immune Globulin:

Monday March 9, 2015 Tuesday March 10, 2015
Wednesday March 11, 2015 Thursday March 12, 2015
Friday March 13, 2015 Saturday March 14, 2015
Sunday March 15, 2015 Monday March 16, 2015
Tuesday March 17, 2015 Wednesday March 18, 2015
Thursday March 19, 2015

ONLY persons who consumed food/drink within the Casa-di-Pizza restaurant are affected.

NO take-out orders or bar food/drink were at risk.

The Hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin is only effective within two weeks of exposure to the virus. Patrons who ate in Casa-di-Pizza restaurant or banquet room on the specified dates (and have not been previously vaccinated against hepatitis A) should receive the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin as soon as possible.

Point of Distribution Clinics

Monday, March 23, 2015         12 pm (noon) – 8:00 pm

Tuesday, March 24, 2015        8:00 am – 6:00 pm

Buffalo Niagara Convention Center 153 Franklin Street, Buffalo

Marler: Towards a Policy of Secrecy or Transparency in Public Health

tauxeI have a great deal of respect for Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, Deputy Director of the Division of the CDC that is charged with prevention and control of foodborne, waterborne and fungal infections.  He has been in the diarrheal trenches for a very long time – since just after E. coli O157:H7 made its quiet entrance in McDonald’s restaurant (unnamed at the time) hamburgers in Michigan and Oregon to the deadliest Listeria outbreak linked to tainted Colorado cantaloupes.  Over many years he has had the responsibility for overseeing the 76 million (or is it 48 million) sickened, 325,000 (or it is 125,000) hospitalized, and 5,000 (or is it 3,000) deaths yearly due to foodborne illness – that is a lot of responsibility.I have had the pleasure over that last two decades to on occasion share the food safety stage with him (although you get the sense that the feeling is less than mutual).  And, I cannot think of anyone who looks better in a bow tie.It is therefore with mixed emotions, and the knowledge that I likely make my relationship with public health – both federal and state – even more tenuous, that I question his quotes in today’s MSNBC dust-up over the disclosure or non-disclosure of “Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A” that is a source of a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 68 people in 10 states.Here is what he had to say to MSNBC:
Dr. Robert Tauxe, a top CDC official, defended the agency’s practice of withholding company identities, which he said aims to protect not only public health, but also the bottom line of businesses that could be hurt by bad publicity. The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and state health departments often identify companies responsible for outbreaks, but sometimes do not.“The longstanding policy is we publicly identify a company only when people can use that information to take specific action to protect their health,” said Tauxe, the CDC’s deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “On the other hand, if there’s not an important public health reason to use the name publicly, CDC doesn’t use the name publicly.”Because companies supply vital information about outbreaks voluntarily, CDC seeks to preserve cordial relationships.

“We don’t want to compromise that cooperation we’ll need,” Tauxe said. …

Tauxe acknowledged there’s no written policy or checklist that governs that decision, only decades of precedent.

“It’s a case-by-case thing and all the way back, as far as people can remember, there’s discussions of ‘hotel X’ or ‘cruise ship Y,” he said.

I too was quoted in the article above and was repeatedly asked if I thought that the CDC was bending to company pressure to keep the restaurant name quiet.  I said emphatically no!  But that did not make it into the article.  So, not to put words in Dr. Tauxe’s mouth (and granted he may have had more to say), but as best as I can tell, these are his arguments for disclosure and non-disclosure and my thoughts in italics:

A.  Although there is no written policy, it is the way we have done things for years;

Why do I hear my mom saying, “just because so and so does that does not mean you should too.” Like all government policies (and neckwear) – change is good.

B.  Since the outbreak has concluded, there is not an immediate public health threat;

Frankly, that is true in most foodborne illness outbreaks.  In nearly every single outbreak investigated by the CDC the outbreak is figured out far after the peak of the illnesses happened.  However, disclosure gives the public information on which companies have a strong or weak food safety record.

C.  Disclosing the name of the company jeopardizes cooperation from the company in this and future outbreaks; and

If a company will only cooperate if they are placed in a witness protection program and with promises of non-disclosure, it does not say much for our government’s and the company’s commitment to safe food.

D.  Bad publicity may cause economic hardship on the restaurant.

True, but not poisoning your customers is a better business practice.

I would also add a couple more reasons that I have received via email (mostly anonymously):

1.  The source was an unknown supplier, so naming the restaurant might place unfair blame on the restaurant;

This one does make some sense.  However, is this the unnamed restaurants first problem with a faulty supplier, or is this a pattern?  And, even if it is the first time, perhaps some of the unnamed product is still in the market?

2.  Since the outbreak involves a perishable item, by the time the CDC announces the outbreak, the tainted product has long been consumed;

This one I have heard a “bunch” of times – especially in leafy green outbreaks.  However, why should the public be left in the dark about the type of product that sickens as well as the likely grower and shipper so they can make future decision who to buy from?

3.  Going public with the name of the restaurant compromises the epidemiologic investigation by suggesting the source of the outbreak before the investigation is complete;

I completely agree with this one.  This is a tough call, and one that must create the most angst for public health officials – they decide the balance between having enough data to go forward to protect the public health or wait for more data.  The point is do not go forward until the investigation is complete.

4.  Public health is concerned of making an investigation mistake like, it’s the tomatoes, err, I mean peppers; and

See my answer to 3 above.  This is why under the law; public health officials are immune for liability for the decisions that they make in good faith to protect the public.

5.  Public health – especially surveillance – is under budgetary pressures and there is simply not the resources to complete investigations; and

There is no question that this is true.  I have seen it in dropped investigations over the last few years.  Labs are not doing genetic fingerprinting to help reveal links between ill people.  And, many tracebacks are stopped by the lack of peoplepower to do the research necessary to find the “root cause” of an outbreak.

For me it is easy – the public has a right to know and to use the information as it sees fit, and people – especially government employees – have no right to decide what we should and should not know.  CDC, FDA and the state health departments of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio and Tennessee should do their jobs.

Lunch Lady with Hepatitis A

1_28_11lunchladyA Westchester school district is alerting parents that a cafeteria worker at one middle school was diagnosed with hepatitis A.

A letter sent to parents and employees from the Mamaroneck Union Free School District announced that a Hommocks Middle School cafeteria worker who worked for Aramark Food Service employee was diagnosed with Hepatitis A and is recovering.

“We have been working closely with the Westchester County Health Department, and the Westchester County Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, MD, has assured us that it is unlikely that anyone at the school would become ill as a result,” the letter says.

“School nurses have been instructed to keep a watchful eye for any student or staff member who may exhibit symptoms,” the letter says.

It also describes hepatitis A symptoms as fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea, and says that vaccination and hand-washing are the best protections.

“If you/your child develop these symptoms anytime from today through April 23, please do not send them to school and immediately notify the school nurse,” the letter says.