Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

My view of Food Safety from the 19th Floor of the Plaza in Manhattan

The-Plaza-Hotel.jpgI am still in New York (which by the way got hit with a freak October snowstorm – that included thunder and lightening), after being on a food safety panel at Grand Central Station as part of Consumer Report’s 75th anniversary on Friday. After the panel, I got to meet with the son of a woman who recently died from Listeria in Louisiana (yes, from cantaloupe) and the sister and mother of a young woman who nearly died 15 years ago from eating an E. coli-tainted salad (I offered the sister a summer internship).

I also got to spend two hours on Saturday with graduate students in the Columbia School of Journalism downloading story ideas and sources for their upcoming year of food safety reporting.

Earlier in the week (Thursday) I sat down in the cafeteria of a Denver hospital with reporters Michael Booth and Jennifer Brown, after I visited a family who is still keeping vigil over a husband and father left in a coma from eating cantaloupe, and after visiting a man who just lost his wife of over 50 years, who too died from eating the Colorado-grown fruit, for the Post’s article – “Producers seldom hear of food-safety issues from their private auditors.” The article is well worth the read – especially for auditors and those who rely on them. My favorite quote this time does not come from me:

“It’s a system (audits) that doesn’t appreciate truth-telling, even when human lives are at stake,” said Amanda Hitt, director of the Food Integrity Campaign at the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C.

Several weeks ago I had lunch (we went Dutch) with Seattle Times reporter Maureen O’Hagan. For years I have been scaring the hell out of her with stories of the lack of safety of our food supply. I think she gets it (well almost – she still is not using a thermometer) as you can tell from the headline – “What you eat can kill you if you don’t watch out.” This time, I did enjoy my quote:

Screen Shot 2011-10-30 at 2.22.36 PM.pngBut if positive salmonella tests (talking about the recent Cargill Turkey Outbreak) don’t force a company to take food off the market, what does?

Marler is glib. “Bodies,” he says. He means numbers of people who get sick or die, and whose illness can be inarguably tied, via DNA, to the tainted food.

Interesting, it was the human stories that I told the audience at Grand Central (which included some from “Occupy Wall Street” who were getting out of the cold) and the Columbia students to focus on. Food Safety will not change unless those responsible for it – from “Farm to Table” – from the Corporate Board Room to the President’s desk – really know what it is like to watch you father and husband lay in a coma, or your wife or mother die, from eating a damn cantaloupe.

Sadly, it’s the bodies.

And, a picture to the right at the other end of the island – 99% away.

  • At the Slow Money conference two weeks ago in San Francisco, I met a Colorado farmer who says that the locals around Jensen Farms near Holly, Colorado believe that New York City recycled waste that was spread on a neighbor’s field caused the recent listeria outbreak. This seems worthy of more follow-up. Why are we not hearing anymore about what caused this outbreak?

  • Here is the FDA report:
    http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/CORENetwork/ucm272372.htm
    Cause of this outbreak is simply a bad packing house.

  • Hector Chaparro

    Maybe PRIMUS should audit them

  • buckeye2001

    LIKE WALL STREET THE PRODUCERS HIRE THE RATING AGENCIES….THE CONSUMERS AND BUYERS SHOULD HIRE THE THIRD PARTY INSPECTORS…FOLLOW THE MONEY AND YOU WILL FIND THE LEVEL OF SAFETY