I love Mondays in Australia because it’s Sunday in the U.S., football and hockey are on TV for background, the kid is at school when not in France, and I write (Sorenne painting in France).
Fourteen years ago, me and Chapman went on a road trip to Prince George (where Ben thought he would be eaten by bears) to Seattle, then to Manhattan, Kansas, where in the first week I met a girl, got a job, and then spinach happened.
Leafy greens are still covered in shit.
I am drowning in nostalgia, but things haven’t changed, and, as John Prine wrote, all the news just repeats itself.
Same with relationships.
Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration food safety chief, David Acheson, writes that on October 31, 2019, FDA announced a romaine lettuce E. coli O157:H7 outbreak for which the active investigation had ended and the outbreak appeared to be over. As such FDA stated there was no “current or ongoing risk to the public” and no avoidance of the produce was recommended.
Since that announcement, however, I have seen a number of articles condemning FDA and CDC. Why? Because the traceback investigation of the outbreak began in mid-September when CDC notified FDA of an illness cluster that had sickened 23 people across 12 states. So why the delay in announcing it to the public?
Despite the critical (and rather self-serving; always self-serving) stance on the “inexcusable” delay taken by a prominent foodborne illness attorney and his Food Safety “News” publication – which blasted a headline FDA “hid” the outbreak – my stance, having been an FDA official myself involved in outbreak investigations, is that the delay was practical and sensible.
When romaine lettuce was identified as the likely source, the available data indicated that the outbreak was not ongoing and romaine lettuce eaten by sick people was past its shelf life and no longer available for sale.
Even once romaine was identified as the likely cause, no common source or point of contamination was identified that could be used to further protect the public.
During the traceback investigation, the outbreak strain was not detected in any of the samples collected from farms, and there were no new cases.
Thus, neither FDA nor CDC identified any actionable information for consumers.
So, if it is not in consumers’ best interest to publicize an issue that no longer exists, why should they be driven away from a healthy food alternative? Why should unfounded unease be generated that will damage the industry, providing no benefit for consumers but ultimately impacting their pockets? There is just no upside to making an allegation without information. We’ve seen the impact on consumers and the industry when an announcement of a suspected food turns out to be incorrect; specifically “don’t eat the tomatoes” when it turned out to be jalapeno and serrano peppers. Having learned from such incidents, FDA’s approach is: If we don’t have a message that will help protect the public, then there is no message to be imparted.
So, rather than condemn FDA and CDC, I would commend them for getting the balance correct. And, perhaps, instead of any condemning, we should be working together to get the answers faster, to get outbreak data through better, faster, more efficient and coordinated traceability. Our entire system is too slow – a topic we have discussed many times in these newsletters.
The public and the scientific community need to be informed to prevent additional people from barfing.
I also rarely eat lettuce of any sort because it is overrated and the hygiene controls are not adequate.
Greek salad without lettuce is my fave.
Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health
NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14
Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell
Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.