Listeria redux: Maple Leaf to cut 400 jobs

I killed two people in a car accident when I was 18-years-old. I went to jail. It’s all on the Intertubes.

20080827bg_leaf07.JPGBut I’ve never hid from it.

Seven years after his cold-cuts killed 23 people and sickened 55 with Listeria, Maple Leaf president Michael McCain now says, it’s all about the money.

Fair comment: food is a low-margins-high-turnover kind of biz.

But to ignore the food safety aspects when your company has monumentally messed up is beyond belief.

Or just another day at the office.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc said on Wednesday it would cut 400 management jobs, or about 3 per cent of its work force, saying it was ready to streamline operations after starting up Canada’s biggest meat plant.

Nearly half of the positions are based in the Mississauga head office, said spokesman Dave Bauer. Sixty-four are based at the new Hamilton, meat plant, where analysts noted excess staff and supervisors during a recent tour, and the rest of the job cuts are scattered across Canada.

Senior management, led by chief executive officer Michael McCain, remains intact, Bauer said.

“After years of change and transformation, we’re now in a position to streamline the organization so we can operate as efficiently as possible,” Bauer said.

Does that include food safety?


Top-10 turkey questions the Butterball hotline has ever been asked

Butterball’s Talk-Line has helped confused cooks with Thanksgiving turkey prep since its inception 35 years ago — and while the service has successfully churned out thousands of responses to common questions, which the company so

botterball.hotline1.So I’m looking at a turkey from 1969 sitting here in my father’s freezer … any tips on the best way to cook a 30-year-old bird?

The Talk-Line suggested the man throw out the old turkey and purchase a new one. Then, the Talk-Line suggested to cook the turkey in the open roasting pan method.

  1. How do I roast my turkey so it gets golden brown tan lines — in the shape of a turkey bikini?

The experts helped to create a “bikini look” by using aluminum foil in certain places on the turkey.

  1. How to carve a turkey when all of its bones have been broken?
  2. I carved my turkey with a chainsaw … is the chain grease going to adversely affect my turkey?
  3. Why does my turkey have no breast meat?

A disappointed woman called wondering why her turkey had no breast meat. After a conversation with a Talk-Line operator, it became apparent that the woman’s turkey was lying on the table upside down.

  1. It’s my first Thanksgiving and I have a tiny apartment-sized oven … how much will my turkey expand when cooking?
  2. How do I get my turkey to stop sudsing? Is a soapy turkey recoverable?

A first-time Thanksgiving chef called after she had washed her turkey with dish soap. You don’t have to clean your turkey, simply pat the extra juices dry with paper towels before stuffing or roasting the turkey.

  1. For the sake of delicious smells, can I cook my turkey over the course of four days?

The Talk-Line doesn’t recommend slow-cooking your turkey over the course of multiple days. You are able to use a slow cooker if needed, but experts would recommend 6-8 hours in the slow cooker. If cooking in the oven, it should only take a few hours to cook.

  1. How do I baste a pre-basted turkey?

Some folks love to baste the turkey while it’s cooking. If you’re one of them, the Talk-Line suggests basting only a few times during the cooking process so you don’t continuously let out the heat of the oven.

  1. My turkey thawed on my lap … can I eat it?

A gentleman won a turkey at the casino, and brought it home on the bus where it had thawed. The safest way to thaw your turkey is in the refrigerator — it takes one day for every four pounds of turkey.

Farmers targeting toxo-carrying feral cats in NZ

An Ontario friend arranged for three kittens for me and my daughters about 12 years ago from their local shelter. was a dairy farmer and used to horrify the kids with how he shot stray kitties.

People would randomly abandon cats on his dairy farm, believing cartoons about cats and milk.

He wasn’t going to lose his livelihood to some unwanted cat.

Farmers in New Zealand are doing the same thing.

Feral cats carrying toxoplasmosis are the target of a predator programme that could save Hawke’s Bay farmers in excess of $4.5 million dollars a year.

A monitoring programme testing ewes on six farms, as part of the Cape to City predator programme, has found that up to 30 per cent of sheep carry the disease, which causes a high abortion rate in pregnant ewes.

Three “experimental” farms within the 26,000-hectare Cape to City footprint tested feral cats and mice for toxoplasmosis while three control farms outside of the footprint tested mice only.

Sixty sheep on each farm have also been sample tested to form a baseline across the farms that have been matched in size, stocking density and habitat.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Biosecurity adviser Rod Dickson said the baseline was high but “that was expected” and by reducing feral cats, it is hoped abortion rates will decrease.

braunwynn.kittens.03“Feral cats are one of the main carriers of toxoplasmosis and if we can reduce the numbers of feral cats, we have a good chance of reducing the high abortion rate in ewes.

“This could provide a significant economic benefit for farmers,” he said.

Mr Dickson said toxoplasma is highly prevalent in New Zealand sheep flocks with a recent survey testing 198 ewe flocks revealed 85 per cent of sheep had been exposed to the disease.

Sheep become infected from eating contaminated food such as pasture, concentrate feeds and hay.

Once ingested, the disease spreads to the sheep’s muscles and brain ” and also to the placenta. Shielded from the ewe’s defence system the parasite multiplies rapidly, killing cells as infection spreads.

And my cats? Lucky wasn’t so lucky and didn’t make it out of Guelph. The two black ones had a long life roaming the forest in our Kansas backyard and, brought us gifts every morning.

Not the headline Batz would have used: Which U.S. foods are most likely to get you sick

Friend of the Michael Batz, says there is a difference between “which foods are most likely to get you sick?” and “which foods cause the greatest burden in the U.S.?”

So he provided commentary on a story he helped create.

The story ran in Fortune, and claimed the U.S. economy will take a $15.5 billion dollar food safety hit through lost income, lost revenue, healthcare-related costs and some intangibles, like “pain and suffering,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Research shows the most common foodborne pathogen is norovirus, which is the leading cause of gastroenteritis. The most deadly is listeria; though it is rare, with just 123 confirmed cases in 2013, 24 led to death. The most expensive is salmonella, which is quite common — 7,277 cases in 2013, but with a small fraction (127) resulting in death.

How worried should Americans be about the safety of the food supply? Which foods are most likely to get Americans sick? A deep dive into the data offers a look at where the risks lie.

To identify the most dangerous foods, the Emerging Pathogen Institute, a research institute at the University of Florida, compiled a greatest hits of dangerous pathogen/food pairings. Using a methodology that combined the likelihood of contracting an illness and the illness’s severity to calculate total disease burden, the group identified a Top Ten list of combinations.

Rank Food and Pathogen Cost Illnesses Hospitalizations Deaths
1 Poultry (campylobacter) $1,257m 608,231 6,091 55
2 Pork (toxoplasma) $1,219M 35,537 1,815 134
3 Deli meats (listeria) $1,086M 651 595 104
4 Poultry (salmonella) $712M 221,045 4,159 81
5 Dairy products (listeria) $724M 434 397 70
6 Complex Foods (salmonella) $630M 195,655 3,682 72
6 Complex foods (norovirus) $914M 2,494,222 6,696 68
8 Produce (salmonella) $548M 170,264 3,204 63
8 Beef (toxoplasma) $689M 20,086 1,026 76
10 Eggs (salmonella) $370M 115,003 2,164 42

 The top pairings don’t necessarily map to the major outbreaks of disease; only four of the top ten outbreaks in 2014 were from pairings on the list. J. Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogen Institute, told Fortune that, outbreaks are “a small fraction” of the total number of foodborne illnesses. In most cases, foodborne illnesses are limited to a small group of people, which makes it difficult for authorities to track.

cdc.fbi.illnessBatz explains the which-foods-cause-the-greatest-burden-in-the-U.S. is about everyone. It is the summary row in a table with 300 million lines, each row representing a different person. Each row could be considered something like individual risk.

(You think you’re a special snowflake? Nope, you’re just a row in the giant spreadsheet of life.)

Our individual risks differ so greatly. Unless you’re pregnant, you don’t need to worry about transmitting Listeria monocytogenes or Toxoplasma gondii to your fetus. Your risks go up when you’re immunocompromised, particularly for some bugs. The young and old face increased risks, though again, every disease is different. People of different ages and genders have different food consumption patterns, too.

And even then, that one row represents risks faced at every meal over the course of a year. Some foods have much higher risks per serving, yet we don’t eat them that often. We consume other foods with lower risks per serving in very high quantities. When you’re telling someone which foods are riskiest, which do you mean? It’s tricky.

Five or so years ago, my colleagues and I published the results of trying to just get at that summary row. Or to be more specific, we tried to say something about which pathogens, which foods, and which pathogen-food pairs cause the greatest public health impact. This kind of information is, I believe, important for getting a handle on the landscape of foodborne disease, to help guide our efforts to reduce the burden.

fbi.batz.pie.chart.nov.15The report had a punchy “top ten” type title and got some attention (for which I’m thankful). But the attention has always come with a price, and that price is that when work like this is written up, it’s almost always presented to readers as some version of which foods to avoid.

I get it, I really do. It’s natural to frame things to readers this way, to take research and make it personally relevant to them. But it kind of butchers the work, and can do as much to misinform as to educate.

So kudos to Tamar Haspal of Fortune for mostly getting it right in an article that presents risks at the broad, national level. Boo to whoever wrote the headline, which conflates population and individual risk and asks “which foods are most likely to make you sick?”

Translating research is always tricky, and I’m never quoted quite to my satisfaction (I can’t get none). In the article, I say we value mortality at $8.7 million per life lost because “there’s also a social welfare value to a life.” Well, that’s not quite right, and I’m doubtful I put it quite that way, and my economist friends are likely groaning at the phrasing, but it’s fine. It’s mostly right, anyway. You have to learn to turn the other cheek.

But other things I just can’t let go. Like the fact that, for the record, I hate pie charts.

Science and blogs: Gelman vs. Case-Deaton

Case and Deaton, welcome to the blogs.

french knightsProminent academics are often astonished at the rapidity with which the blogosphere occasionally pounces on and dissects their research findings. In this case, it happened to Case and Deaton, authors of a recent much-publicized study entitled “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.” The pounce was done by Phil Cohen, and – most prominently – by Andrew Gelman. 

The TL;DR version is that rising mortality in some of the subgroups spotlighted by Case and Deaton was increased by a composition effect – the average age within the subgroups increased over the observation period, which pushed up death rates for the aggregated subgroups. If you remove the composition effect, the mortality increase among these groups was considerably less.

Anne Case responded with the consternation typical of researchers first encountering blog attacks:

Case said that she didn’t buy this argument. “We spent a year working on this paper, sweating out every number, sweating out over what we were doing, and then to see people blogging about it in real time — that’s not the way science really gets done,” she said. “And so it’s a little hard for us to respond to all of the blog posts that are coming out.”

Academics are used to the cozy, staid world of academia. Responses are slow, polite, and vetted by third parties. Arguments happen in seminars, in office discussions, and at dinners. Disputes are resolved over a matter of years – when they are resolved at all. And never do intellectual adversaries take their case to the general public!

But academics are going to have to get used to blogs. The technological advances of the web have simply made it easier for crowds of outsiders to evaluate research in real time. How often that process produces the “wisdom of crowds”, and how often it merely adds unhelpful noise, remains to be seen. Certainly we’ve seen the internet do both of those things at different times. But blog criticism of research looks like something that’s here to stay, and academics whose work appears in the popular press will have to get used to it!

Blog discourse has some distinct advantages – above all, the speed of responses and the diversity of people who get involved in discussions. How often do you see two economists arguing with a sociologist and a political scientist/statistician? That’s pretty cool! There is, however, a tendency for blog debates to become too antagonistic. 

I think Andrew Gelman’s latest salvo against Case and Deaton falls into this category a bit. He is put out that Case and Deaton have, so far, refused to issue a public mea culpa about what he sees as a major gotcha. Gelman writes up what he thinks such a mea culpa should say, and includes these bits of snark:

Had it not been for bloggers, we’d still be in the awkward situation of people trying to trying to explain an increase in death rates which isn’t actually happening…We count ourselves lucky to live in an era in which mistakes can be corrected rapidly[.]

Gelman is dramatically overstating the importance of what he found! To say that the increase in death rates “isn’t actually happening”, first of all, is not quite right – Gelman’s rough-and-ready composition adjustment removes all of the increase, but more careful examination shows that some portion of the increase remains.

Second, Gelman is kind of assuming that zero is the important benchmark for what constitutes an “increase”. He makes sure to point out that the paper’s main finding – that American white mortality increased a lot relative to various comparison groups – is not changed by the composition adjustment. But when he claims that the increase “didn’t really happen”, Gelman is saying that “increase” is an absolute rather than a relative term.

Andrew, you’re a stats guy. You know full well that people analyzing time-series data detrend stuff all the time. Measuring increases relative to a trend is totally standard practice! 

So like many blog debates, this one ends up making a mountain out of a molehill. The composition effect was a useful and instructive observation, but it doesn’t really change anything about the paper’s result. And publicly demanding that the authors engage in an equally public mea culpa over such a non-issue is a little unrealistic. If it leads to rancor in the long term, that will be a shame.

I like what blogs have done for research, but I think we should work to make those discussions less about point-scoring and more about a cooperative, crowdsourced search for truth.

Cook with thermometers: Campy in UK supermarkets, oh and surveys suck

The Food Standards Agency is Thursday to publish the results of its latest UK supermarket survey, testing for the deadly bug Campylobacter in chickens on sale.

chicken.thermdsA study led by Professor Dan Rigby at The University of Manchester found that almost three-quarters of consumers still do not associate the pathogen – the most common cause of food poisoning – with the chickens that they buy.

Professor Rigby said: “Following the headlines – one year ago – about the amount of contaminated chicken on supermarket shelves, we surveyed 900 people and found that only 28% associated Campylobacter with poultry and most still significantly underestimated the rate of contamination of chickens for sale in the UK .

“These findings show there is still a huge amount of work to be done to reduce the problem of Campylobacter infection; a problem which costs the UK around £900m annually.”

“There is still a huge amount of work to be done to reduce the problem of Campylobacter infection; a problem which costs the UK around £900m annually -Professor Dan Rigby”

Other key findings include:

One third of people interviewed shortly after last year’s headlines said they could not recall the story.

Less than half [40%] said they would change their behaviour at all as a result of the news, most citing changes to the way they handled or cooked chicken.

Just over a third of the sample correctly identified the retailer which had just been revealed as having the highest contamination rate.

Retailers are failing to promote the food safety benefits of ‘roast in the bag’ chickens.

How will this be inspected? Best will market food safety; new food apps could see home cooks takeout takeaways

No one invites me for dinner; they know I’m a food safety asshole (who carries a tip-sensitive digital thermometer in his backpack). don’t like charity cooking, I don’t like when I don’t know how the food was prepared, and I don’t like sausage sizzles, apparently part of Australian culture.

I want to celebrate food, I want to eat and share stories, but there are so many tales every day of people messing up the basics.

When we went to a (ice) hockey tournament a couple of months ago, I volunteered to call up the local health types and ensure a sausage sizzle was OK.

Sure, as long as it’s for charity.

I had to take a 16 hour course to coach little kids in hockey in Australia (because my Canadian experience didn’t count) but needed nothing to prepare food that could sicken those same little kids.

So this seems like a bad idea.

We could soon be bidding farewell to the fish and chip shop and saying ta-ta to the takeaway Thai if a plan to transform the way we eat, in the same way Uber has shaken up how we travel, takes off., industry experts have warned that if restaurants don’t find a way to respond to the challenge they will be the losers as Australians turn to their next door neighbours for dinner rather than head out to the local takeaway.

However, there are concerns bureaucratic red tape could halt any moves to create a new future of food in its tracks.

Last week, 100 of Australia’s ‘foodie-prenuers’ gathered in Sydney for HackFood, a meeting place to thrash out the most innovative ideas to transform the food industry.

One of the most promising initiatives to emerge for the gathering, and one that is already in development, could see Australians turning their backs on takeout forever.

“It’s the UberX and Airbnb of home cooked meals,” said Jennifer Callaghan of the HomeCooked app she has created with partner Josh MacNamara.

Ms Callaghan said there were currently three options for people to eat: prepare at home, eat at a restaurant or order takeout. The new app added a fourth choice — local people cooking dinner for you.

“A home cook could say I’m going to make 10 servings of Thai green curry on a certain date and the person wanting to eat could flick through and see what’s cooking in their local area.

“You could request and pick it up then or order ahead for another day,” said Ms Callaghan who envisaged busy professionals stopping by their neighbours for takeaway containers of Indian goat curry or mac and cheese on the way home from work. similar apps, such as MyTable, are available in countries such as the US and India, she said no such technology existed in Australia.

According to IBISWorld the Australian takeaway food industry has annual revenues of $4bn and employs around 15,000 people with Eagle Boys and Domino’s some of the biggest players.

The business partners had done research that showed 80 per cent of people in inner city neighbourhoods would be open to buying a home cooked meal from a neighbour as an alternative to a takeaway.

Students and stay-at-home mums might jump at the idea of cooking for other local people, said Ms Callaghan who hope to launch HomeCooked in early 2016.

However, the challenges to this new way of eating are significant with established players unlikely to welcome a digital newcomer disrupting the status quo and food safety regulations designed around traditional food outlets.

Last year, Bunbury schoolgirl Chelsea-lee Downes found her roadside stall selling lemonade and cupcakes shut down by the local council because the food was produced in a domestic rather than commercial kitchen.

All cooks would have to take out insurance and there would be a “verification process” similar to that used by Airbnb, said Ms Callaghan. But she admitted the legality of selling food cooked up in a standard kitchen was unclear. “It’s a grey area and we’re talking to people in the industry around the ways of overcoming those areas but there has been a paradigm shift in how we access transport, lifestyle, and now food and things are changing no matter what,” she said.

you' principal of food compliance specialists FoodLegal, Joe Lederman, told regulations covering food preparation varied from place to place. “It’s a question of attitude, some regulators are in the business of encouraging new business and some are hostile to anyone who’s not commercial.

“It’s a similar experience with taxis, in some places they are more open and others take the approach it’s not the way forward and should not be done.”

Antibiotic use in animals must be curbedd

In a paper published today in medical journal The Lancet, the authors argue that excessive use of the medication in animals is contributing as much to the global antibiotic resistance crisis as overuse in humans.

fda-antibiotics-agricultureThe majority of antibiotics produced by pharmaceutical companies are used in animals rather than humans and there have been outbreaks of antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals that have been traced back to bacteria from animals. Although antibiotic use in animals in Europe is tightly regulated, it is less controlled in other parts of the world.

One common means by which antibiotic resistant bugs pass from animal to humans is through eating meat, explained Dr Luke Moore, co-author of the study, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London: “If you eat a chicken that contains an antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as E.coli – and the chicken is not cooked properly – the bacteria can lodge in your gut. There is then a risk of it escaping from your intestines, and perhaps travelling to your gallbladder or urinary tract, where it may potentially trigger an infection that doesn’t respond to antibiotics.

“Meat tissue may contain molecules of the antibiotic drug itself. These molecules can travel to your intestines and increase antibiotic resistance in the bacteria that naturally reside in your gut,” he added.

It is not just meat that can carry antibiotic resistance – crops and vegetables can harbour them too, from animal manure used as fertiliser. The researchers suggest that a number of strategies are needed to tackle the issue.

“Farmers have an ever-growing population to feed, and a shrinking area of land to generate food, so they need to meet these demands. We need to not only encourage the use of vaccination, as this would prevent antibiotic use, but also think about how to make immunisation more cost effective for farmers.

We also need to investigate developing alternative methods of killing bacteria – in both humans and animals,” said Dr Moore.

The new paper also reveals that antibiotic resistant bugs will continue to thrive for many years across the globe, even if we immediately stop all use of antibiotics.

The publication is one of a series examining how antimicrobial resistance is being tackled worldwide, and outlining future priorities for researchers and policymakers. 

The series is launched today at Imperial, at an event hosted by Imperial’s NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Healthcare Associated Infection and Antimicrobial Resistance, which is led by Professor Alison Holmes from the Department of Medicine.

Professor Holmes, who is also lead author on the Imperial paper, said: “Our understanding of the mechanisms by which bacteria and other pathogens acquire resistance to drugs suggests that there will be no single solution to the global threat of antimicrobial resistance. We need to tackle this problem synergistically, on multiple fronts, which will require an unprecedented level of international cooperation.”

abattoirs-anc-494x190Crucially, adds Professor Holmes, researchers and policymakers need to focus their efforts across humans, animals and agriculture, in order to fight the rising tide of resistance.

“We must adopt a ‘One Health’ approach globally, recognising that the health of humans, animals and ecosystems are interconnected, and ensuring that any policies to tackle resistance address each of these areas.”


To combat the threat to human health and biosecurity from antimicrobial resistance, an understanding of its mechanisms and drivers is needed. Emergence of antimicrobial resistance in microorganisms is a natural phenomenon, yet antimicrobial resistance selection has been driven by antimicrobial exposure in health care, agriculture, and the environment. Onward transmission is affected by standards of infection control, sanitation, access to clean water, access to assured quality antimicrobials and diagnostics, travel, and migration. Strategies to reduce antimicrobial resistance by removing antimicrobial selective pressure alone rely upon resistance imparting a fitness cost, an effect not always apparent. Minimising resistance should therefore be considered comprehensively, by resistance mechanism, microorganism, antimicrobial drug, host, and context; parallel to new drug discovery, broad ranging, multidisciplinary research is needed across these five levels, interlinked across the health-care, agriculture, and environment sectors. Intelligent, integrated approaches, mindful of potential unintended results, are needed to ensure sustained, worldwide access to effective antimicrobials.

 Understanding the mechanisms and drivers of antimicrobial resistance

The Lancet

Alison H Holmes, Luke S P Moore, Arnfinn Sundsfjord, Martin Steinbakk, Sadie Regmi, Abhilasha Karkey, Philippe J Guerin, Laura J V Piddock

Water, conduit of bacteria to produce: Onion growers can live with FDA rule

Idaho and Oregon onion growers say they can live with the water quality provisions included in the FDA’s final produce safety rule, which was released Nov. 13.

onion.water.oregonTwo years ago, they were worried the proposed water quality provisions in FDA’s originally proposed produced rule could put them out of business. But industry officials said the FDA heard their concerns and re-wrote the rule in a way that onion growers are OK with.

To go from a rule that would have seriously impacted the economics of the onion industry “to a rule that’s livable for us and allows us to stay in business is a huge victory,” said Kay Riley, chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.

When FDA first proposed its produce safety rule in 2013, it included water quality standards limiting how much generic E. coli bacteria could be present in agricultural water.

If the water didn’t meet those standards, farmers had to immediately stop using it. Virtually none of the surface water used by onion growers in Eastern Oregon and Southwestern Idaho meets those standards.

The water quality standards still exist in the final rule.

But FDA altered them to allow growers to meet the standards, even if their water exceeds the minimum bacteria levels, if they can show through scientific evidence that bacteria dies off at a certain rate from the last day of irrigation until harvest.

The bulb onions grown in this region are left in the field to dry for a few weeks following harvest. Field trials by Oregon State University researchers have shown these onions will meet the so-called die-off provisions.

“The thing that’s great about it is they actually listened to us,” Riley said. “I would deem it a tremendous victory compared to what it could have been.”

But the final rule still requires farmers to test their water annually, even if they meet the die-off provisions. Onion growers say the testing will be costly and time-consuming and they hope to be able to skip them.

“They are still going to require testing and that’s going to be the hardest thing to deal with,” said Stuart Reitz, an OSU cropping systems extension agent in Ontario. “The final rule is not ideal but it’s not that bad. It’s one onion growers can live with.”

Going public: Iowa paper says food-poisoning cases should result in more disclosure

I never liked Hy-Vee in Manhattan, Kansas.

They were sorta uppity and didn’t seem to know shit about food safety. editorial in The Des Moines Register echoes those sentiments:

More than 50 people were sickened by cooked taco meat that was served to the staff at Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School last month.

The cooked meat was purchased from a grocery store shortly before it was served at the school as part of a staff luncheon. Subsequent testing detected a temperature-sensitive bacteria in the meat. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals said the food was likely tainted during preparation at the store since the bacteria wouldn’t have had enough time to grow between the time the meat was purchased and the time it was served.

The official public report from the Polk County Department of Public Health said that while a “specific point” in the preparation and handling process couldn’t be identified as the culprit, food-safety and food-handling guidelines were reviewed “with those involved.” The state inspections agency said the store had given assurances the staff was being retrained.

The trouble is, the county and the state chose not to disclose the name of that store. Fortunately, community members stepped forward and identified the business as the Hy-Vee store in Windsor Heights. Had they not done so, the identity of the food supplier might still be unknown.

A Hy-Vee spokeswoman acknowledged the store provided the food, but denied that it was responsible for the food poisoning. She then appeared to cast blame on the store’s own customers, saying, “We can’t control how food is handled after it leaves our stores.”

That statement contrasts sharply with the state’s calming reassurance that the Hy-Vee staff is being retrained, and it only serves to underscore — perhaps unintentionally — the importance of disclosing the names of food suppliers in cases like this.

But public disclosure is traditionally the road less traveled in Iowa, a state where regulations are written largely to protect business and industry — even at the expense of the public welfare.

Our state law says public health reports should be written in a manner that doesn’t identify a business that may be at fault. It goes on to say that “information disclosing the identity of the business may be released to the public when the state epidemiologist or the director of public health determines such a release of information (is) necessary for the protection of the health of the public.”

In the Roosevelt High School case, state health officials say, no public health threat was identified, as only those people who attended the school luncheon were sickened. The logic in that position is hard to fathom, especially when one considers the volume of food a store such as this is capable of dispensing on any given day.

When public health officials identify a supplier of food that is later found to have sickened 50 people, that supplier should be publicly identified. People in the community deserve to know who may have been responsible — not so they can organize a torch-bearing mob, but so they can make fully informed decisions as consumers.