Epidemiology witches don’t get enough credit

Foodborne illness outbreaks are messy. Not just for the unlucky individuals feeling the consequences in the bathroom, but for investigators and business owners. An outbreak is rarely solved with a smoking gun (like a pile of deer poop). Often the source is determined by the Nate-Silveresque witches in the epidemiology department. I’m in awe of the folks who take the available data well after an incident happens and utilize statistics to uncover clues to a vomit or diarrhea mystery.  wizard_of_oz_0456_wicked_witch

Looking at the predictable responses that often pop up from business operators during an outbreak investigation, I’m not sure a lot of other folks outside the food safety world share this awe. All they seem to want to see are test results.

Count Ming Chang of Ming’s Sushi and Dimsum in the ever-so-exciting home of the Petes, Peterborough, Ontario (that’s in Canada) as someone who needs to see a Salmonella-positive sample to be convinced.

Lance Anderson of My Kawartha quotes Chang as saying, “They found nothing” (meaning no positive samples).

Ming Chang, owner of the Lansdowne Street West restaurant, says the local health unit gave the green light to reopen morning after all salmonella testing turned up negative results.

According to the health unit, in December 18 salmonella cases were identified from patrons who had eaten at the restaurant.

Mr. Chang isn’t convinced to outbreak started at his restaurant considering all tests the health unit conducted came back negative.”It could have come from anywhere,” he adds (yeah, but the epidemiological data the health unit has seems to point to Ming’s).

Mr. Chang says the health unit shut him down after some people got sick even though salmonella wasn’t found in the business. “They went on people’s testimonies. Basically I was found guilty before being proven guilty,” says Mr. Chang.”We’ve passed all our inspections here for the past two years.”

Maybe epidemiology’s image needs a makeover. If only it was called Kardashiology, maybe folks would pay attention.

This entry was posted in Food Safety Culture, Food Safety Policy, Salmonella and tagged , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.