Obama Eating a Burger –
A “Teachable Moment” in Food Safety
of Article: http://www.marlerblog.com/
So, what is the big deal?
President Obama ordered a medium-well burger for himself and the VP, and
ordered medium burgers for the press – in a restaurant with a spotty food
safety record that does not use, or may not even have, a thermometer.
Forgoing the phrase “teachable moment” for a bit, I would like to get right
to the “meat” of the matter. What Obama did was foolish - in the view of
many food safety experts - but it is something that many consumers do every
day; they order a burger from their favorite restaurant or cook it
themselves on the backyard grill.
Food safety professionals
inside and outside government will tell you that medium or medium-well
means nothing in the food safety world – temperature is the key. Pink or
brown color is not a good indicator of “doneness.” Temperature on the
inside of the burger (at several places) of 155 to 160 degrees (rules vary
a bit state to state) is the only way to assure that the burger is safe.
Yet less that 2% of consumers use or own a thermometer. Restaurants are
required to have thermometers, but not necessarily use them. So, why do
consumers - including the President - ignore the advice of experts who are
trying to protect them from the bacteria and viruses lurking in their
cheeseburgers that can sicken or kill them or their children?
What consumers believe, including
the President apparently, is what they hear every day from Government
officials and the Beef Industry – “Our Food Supply Is The Safest In the
World”. Compared to China? Great! Clearly, any food safety message is
missed, because of lack of honesty (hamburger really may contain animal
shit that can sicken or kill you!) and lack of education (why don’t we
teach kids how to cook safely in addition to teaching them to wear
seatbelts and shun smoking?)
So, what is a President
to do - avoid hamburgers? Well, I do (and so does my family) ever since the
Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak of 1993 that sickened nearly 600,
caused acute kidney failure in 50 and killed four children - but that is
Full disclosure, I am a
trial lawyer who represents victims of foodborne illness. I have seen too
much misery, and yes, death, caused by failures in food production at every
stage of the food supply. If you do not think our food supply is dangerous,
then just open a newspaper, turn on the radio or TV or surf the Internet.
Foodborne illness outbreaks linked to all types of food (including
hamburger) are nearly a daily occurrence. However, the Government and
Industry keep telling us its safe and we seem to believe it.
So, what is a President
First call the head of
Food Safety Inspection Services (actually, a spot yet to be filled) and ask
him why there is cow shit in hamburger meat in the first place. Also, while
you have him on the phone, ask about Salmonella, Listeria, MRSA and all the
other bugs that may have been in the hamburger you ate the other day.
Next, be honest with the
American Public. With 76,00,000 foodborne illnesses cases yearly, 325, 000
hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, our food supply might be the safer than
China’s – but it is not safe enough.
Third, put food safety on
the “front burner” and turn up the heat. It is time that we commit to the
American Public to get animal shit out of our food. How to do it:
Revise food regulations to criminalize manufacturers who sell food that poisons
consumers. I am not suggesting the “China Method,” but it is time to impose
stiff fines, and jail sentences for businesses that kill kids;
Give tax credits and other incentives to businesses that invest in safe
food methods and technology. Remind me, how many billions have we given the
banks? Perhaps it is time to invest in those who will actually invest in
Increase the surveillance of foodborne diseases. Right now, for every one
person counted in an outbreak, we miss another 20 to 40. This causes delays
in determining what food product is sickening our neighbors allows hundreds
of others to become sick before we figure out what product to pull;
Fully fund Local, State and Federal Health and Food Inspectors and give
them the legislative and financial tools to get the job done.
The “teachable moment” is
simply that the hamburger that the President ordered on Monday should not
put him at risk for getting sick on Thursday. That is true for all of us
and all the food that we eat. The “teachable moment” has passed, the real
question is, “did we learn anything?’