People are never as funny as they think they are; I especially ingrain that message into public health students and professionals, because when little kids are really sick, humor don’t go over too well.
But Dr. Eric Wilke, with the Brazos County Health Department in Texas, next door to Texas A&M where beef is best, thought it would be appropriate to do his own see-I’m-eating-this-it-must-be-OK routine favored by politicians to endorse the safety of a food product stigmatized – usually rightly so – by an outbreak.
The County has been investigating the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that sickened at least 10 people for two weeks, but adamantly refused to release details about the restaurant and supplier link.
Today, Dr. Wilkie began a press conference by taking a bite of a ground beef taco from fingered restaurant, Coco Loco, prior to making that announcement.
“Since everybody, I’m sure, would want to know the name of the restaurant, I went by there right before I came. I got a beef taco, so here it is.”
Wilke paused to chew the taco before continuing with the announcement at the news conference.
“The restaurant is Coco Loco. If you want to meet there tomorrow, we could go eat lunch. I shouldn’t have taken a big bite while I’m on camera.”
Judge for yourselves in the news clip from KHOU 11, below.
The parents of an 18-month-old and a 4-year-old who were sickened from E. coli were disgusted by the failed flair.
Parents Greg and Alissa Melton feel Dr. Wilke should’ve got straight to the facts.
“If his kids were in that situation, in the hospital for a month, it wouldn’t have been such a joking matter,” said Greg Melton.
Last week, Melton’s 4-year-old son Jack was released from Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
On Monday, the same day as the news conference, his 18-month-old son Noah was released.
“They seemed more concerned about saving face for the restaurant than the critical care my kids were in,” said Greg Melton.
Thanks to Marler for forwarding the clip, and thanks to Dr. Wilkie, for providing a textbook example of how not to do food safety risk communication that will be used for years.