A deadly outbreak of what some scientists call an “entirely new” strain of E. coli that contains several antibiotic-resistant genes has world food safety experts puzzled and justly concerned.
The media covering this tragedy, however, are not puzzled. They are covering this story like fleas on a junkyard dog. And they should. It’s a public safety issue that you and I need to understand to help protect our families.
But, if media news coverage of the event has been mostly accurate, commentary and opinions from so-called experts – many with enough education to know better – have seized a new opportunity to unjustly scare your customers. The latest E. coli event continues to produce a lot of misinformation from my colleagues in the media who have never stepped boot into an E. coli laden cow patty.
For instance, David Katz, M.D., director, Yale Prevention Research Center, admits that while beans, broccoli, peas, chickpeas, garlic, lentils, mung beans and radishes are currently the focus of the ongoing E. coli investigation, he believes animals are the culprit. Katz argues that “the entire plant kingdom” is innocent in this case.
Katz, writing an opinion posted by The Huffington Post this week, “E. coli: Blame the Meat, Not the Sprouts,” takes the strange stance of assuming the source of the E. coli bugs before the scientific evidence is complete. Strange because Katz, as a graduate of medical school, should know better than to make assumptions until the scientific evidence is clear.
If Sergeant Joe Friday was on this case he would likely remind us, “Just the facts, mame.”
So, here are the facts so far: Food safety investigators in Europe are closely monitoring the E. coli outbreak that has killed at least 21 and sickened more than 2,300. Tainted vegetables are suspected in the Germany outbreak, though government authorities have yet to determine a cause and have backtracked from previous statements linking the illnesses to cucumbers and then sprouts. Samples from a German sprout farm tested by the Lower-Saxony agriculture ministry tested negative for the “super toxic” E. coli strain responsible for the illnesses. A World Health Organization (WHO) food safety expert called the E. coli responsible “a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before.” That claim was disputed by a U.S. Centers for Disease Control food borne-disease expert who says the strain in question previously caused a single case in Korea in the 1990s. Dr. Robert Tauxe said genetic fingerprints may vary from specimen to specimen, but that is not necessarily enough to constitute a new strain.