stock-illustration-3153394-mexican-restaurant-elements.jpgLynne Shackleford and I likely did not make friends in South Carolina public health today. She for even writing an article – “State agency criticized for refusal to name Spartanburg restaurant linked to E. coli.” And, me for criticizing a South Carolina Health Department during a break today speaking on last years cantaloupe Listeria outbreak at the Colorado State Health Department.

Here is the issue:

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed Friday it is investigating 11 cases associated with the same restaurant, but has declined to identify the establishment. Two of the cases are patients with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, which is characterized by kidney failure caused by E. coli.

DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said he understands the concerns of consumers, but the agency does not believe there is a current health risk. He said inspectors visited the restaurant on Friday, and it scored 96 out of 100 on an inspection.

“When it comes to balancing business interests with the public’s health, we’re always going to make a decision based on what’s in the best interest of the health of our citizens,” DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said in a written statement. “If we had any reason to believe there was ongoing transmission of disease or a current public health threat, we would readily disclose more information about the restaurant associated with the disease outbreak investigation.”

I had a different take:

A nationally recognized food safety advocate is lambasting DHEC’s decision to keep the name of the restaurant under wraps.

“People have a right to know. Consumers have a right to decide if they want to eat at a particular place, and it makes no sense to me how DHEC can justify protecting them while putting a target — literally a target — on every other Mexican restaurant in that area,” said Bill Marler, a nationally recognized attorney and author who specializes in food-borne illness cases….

Marler has represented thousands of clients in claims against food companies, securing more than $600 million for victims of E. coli, Salmonella and other food-borne illnesses. He has testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce and is a national speaker on food safety issues.

“When you hide information from people, it distorts the free market,” Marler said. “If people don’t know why people are getting sick, or the source of that illness, they can’t vote with their pocketbooks and nothing ever changes. Why would a restaurant change its practices if there’s no accountability? There’s no incentive to change.” …

If it’s a mass production supply issue, Marler said, multiple restaurants in this area, and even in multiple states could have been affected.

Marler doesn’t favor a state law specifying a timeline for when an agency should disclose the name of a restaurant once it has been linked to a food-borne illness because it takes time to investigate and positively trace bacteria to a facility.

“They should get the data right, release the name to the public and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

Social media and the Internet have opened the door for people to warn others of the culprit in food poisoning cases, he said.

“It’s different nowadays because of social media and the Internet,” Marler said. “You can’t — and I’m not suggesting you should — but you can’t hide names anymore.”

It is time to give the public its right to know.