According to the Whidbey News-TIMES, Two Island County residents were among those sickened by an outbreak of E. coli in ground beef. As of today six people in Washington, two people in Oregon and one in Idaho fell ill due to E. coli in late July and the first week of August. The Washington E. coli cases included one child and five adults in King, Island and Clallam counties. Two people were hospitalized.

Interestingly, according to the Portland Oregonian, Interstate Meat Distributors Inc., the Clackamas meat grinder tied this week to the E. coli outbreak, also distributed ground beef from a dairy cow later discovered to have mad-cow disease. The privately held company had to buy back a quarter-million pounds of ground beef and temporarily laid off about one-third of its workers.

Alex Pulaski interviewed my nemesis, Dave Ernst, and myself on Friday:

Meat grinder will rely on reputation

Two Northwest authorities on foodborne illness said this week that businesses trying to recover from an outbreak can use honesty above all to recover quickly. Attorneys David Ernst of Portland and Bill Marler of Seattle frequently find themselves on opposite sides of food-related lawsuits, Ernst representing companies that Marler is suing on behalf of consumers.

“First, you must have absolute candor and transparency,” Ernst said. “The public is willing to stick with your brand, but if people aren’t being forthright, then that’s a real problem.

“What I’ve seen is you give the facts that you know, and as things change you let customers and the public know what’s different and what you’ve learned.”

Marler said companies should own up to mistakes and trust the public to forgive them.

“The best thing in my view is to simply say, ‘We’re really sorry our products sickened people. . . . It’s our product and we need to be responsible,’ ” he said. “I think that’s what the public expects.”

Hell of a reputation.