Going public: Is this why companies incorporate in Conn? Food safety info, public in the dark

Rob Cribb of the Toronto Star points out failings in transparency at Health Canada, and repeats a phrase I’ve often used, that there is no way the U.S would tolerate the amount of public service hidings that go on in Canada and Australia.

transparencyThank you, Britain.

Yet even the U.S. is becoming more, uh, secretive.

A state legislator told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters it might be time for a change after seeing our reports on what some call a lack of information shared about foodborne illness outbreaks at restaurants.

Imagine stopping by a restaurant you frequent and seeing a sign in the window saying it’s closed by order of the health department, with no explanation, and nowhere to get one.

Several people have reached out to the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters with similar complaints and said the flow of information has to improve.

The Troubleshooters spoke with residents connected to two different foodborne illness cases in Connecticut, none of whom is satisfied with the way public health officials handled the incidents.

Kamran Niazi said he could not get answers from public health investigators last year when Yale-New Haven Hospital diagnosed him with salmonella hours after he ate at Oregano Joe’s in Orange and became violently ill.

Niazi was hospitalized for almost a week, and health inspectors had the restaurant temporarily closed.

“What’s the point of having a public health department that’s not protecting the public’s health and is actually hiding and withholding information from the public?” Niazi wondered.

Steve and Susan Herzog reached out after watching our reports on Niazi and said they came down with E. coli in the Willimantic area in late 2013.

The Herzogs learned the illness was most likely tied to salad they ate at a local restaurant, but the investigation was inconclusive.

“If you are going to get a foodborne illness, this is the worst state it could happen in,” said Steve Herzog. “What my lawyer was looking for was their produce invoices from the month of December.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter points out most foodborne illness investigations are confidential by state law, and added that investigators learn about most outbreaks a week or two after they happen, so a news release would come too late.

The goal is often to learn from outbreaks and prevent them in the future.

“It’s not until we receive reports from multiple people that we are able to identify an outbreak,” Cartter said. “And there’s a delay between the time that someone eats a contaminated food item, gets sick, sees a doctor, gets a lab test and we hear about it.”