Keith Roysdon of the Muncie, Indiana Star Press and I talked candidly about food safety last week. Here is part of the story:

Companies, government must do more to increase food safety, expert says

Attorney and food safety activist William Marler  [of Marler Clark in Seattle Washington] uses an alarming comparison when urging people not to eat bagged spinach. “Buying spinach is like being married to the same person for 30 years,” Marler said. “But buying bagged spinach is like dating 30 people in a month.”

A Washington attorney whose clients — including members of an Indiana family — testified before Congress in food safety hearings in April, Marler said consumers should beware of some food items and corporate practices in the wake of tainted spinach and peanut butter that caused hundreds of people nationwide to become sick. But Marler and other experts say consumers can only do so much, and that government and industry must act to improve the safety and integrity of our food supply.

In the mid-1990s, tainted hamburger used at fast-food restaurants around the country killed five people and made more than 600 sick. Marler and other attorneys sued and won hundreds of millions of dollars for their clients, he noted. But almost more importantly, the federal government implemented programs — including more food industry testing and mandatory reporting by doctors whose patients were sickened by tainted food — that dramatically reduced the chance of illness-causing bacteria in meat. Marler noted that most of his cases are now sparked by tainted produce. What’s needed? Improved industry safeguards and government oversight, Marler said.

“Everybody says it will cost money, but you tell me how much hamburger has gone up in price since the 1990s,” Marler said. “The reality is that it didn’t make a difference and they’re producing a safer product. “The only difference is, they’re not killing little kids anymore.”

The number of foodborne illnesses linked to produce is not a surprise, Marler said. “As it relates to produce, it’s the perfect storm,” he said. “You’ve got an increase in consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. You’ve got an increase in industrialization of that sector of the economy. There have been 23 outbreaks tied to spinach and lettuce in [10] years, all tied to product that has been bagged in a more mechanized, industrial manner and shipped across the country.

“What the industry needs to do is take a page out of the meat industry’s book on how they’ve lessened the problem and cleaned up their act,” he added. “If the produce industry took that model, if government mandated it and industry adopted it and government made sure they were doing it, it would put me out of business like the meat industry put me out of business.”

I was also interviewed by Jessica Fargen of the Boston Herald last week as well in: What’s eating you?

“Whether it’s sprouts or peanut butter or orange juice, you can’t help yourself but go, ‘Oh my gosh, how did that happen? What’s safe?’” said William Marler, a Seattle attorney who has been retained by Bailey and her husband and about 100 other Bay State residents to sue ConAgra foods, owner of Peter Pan. “The American consumer gets mixed messages that our food is the safest in the world, but if you look at the state of things it’s really not that comforting,” he said.