“I would be the first one to defend any company if the data were incomplete or if the investigation didn’t show an association, but this one almost reminds me of the intimidation lawsuits the tobacco industry has used in the past.”
That’s what Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Doug Ohlemeier of The Packer regarding Del Monte’s lawsuit targeting Oregon’s top food safety scientist, William Keene.
Michael Doyle, a former Food and Drug Administration advisor who heads the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said he fears such lawsuits could limit effectiveness of public health messages to consumers.
“One of the most difficult points that epidemiologists have to make is the call as to whether a specific food is a vehicle for an outbreak. If they do this later than sooner, more people could be exposed to the implicated food and made ill. There needs to be a balance because some epidemiologists may be overly aggressive with insufficient information or pulling the trigger too fast. This lawsuit could do more harm than good but it might make epidemiologists more cognizant of the fact that they’re responsible for not only public health, but economic consequences.”
Dennis Christou, Fresh Del Monte’s vice president of marketing, said the suit is necessary to ensure investigations are conducted properly.
“When a product recall is later determined baseless due to a failure to conduct a comprehensive and reliable investigation, the public health is not protected. The investigation must be comprehensive and reliable such that the public can be reasonable confident that the product recall effectively eliminates the threat to consumer safety.”
A table of cantaloupe-related outbreaks is available at: http://bites.ksu.edu/cantaloupe-related-outbreaks.