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Food Safety Attorney Bill Marler Delivers Food Bank Safety Keynote

Food safety attorney and Food Safety News publisher Bill Marler on Friday delivered the keynote address at a two-day event hosted by Washington state nonprofit Northwest Harvest. The event, meant to orient the organization’s new officers on its statewide food bank work, centered largely around food safety priorities such as cooking guidelines and holding temperatures.

Marler discussed the fact that his law firm settles lawsuits against those who manufacture and sell products who sicken people through proven liability and negligence. Given that food banks are protected from liability in almost any case of foodborne illness through the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, Marler said he might be an unlikely person to deliver the organization’s keynote address.

After recounting some of his landmark cases, including the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak and the 2011 cantaloupe Listeria outbreak, Marler highlighted the importance of food safety practices for all who handle food, whether or not they operate under the threat of litigation.

“Civil litigation is a really blunt instrument for social change,” he said. “There are other ways to deal with things that are appropriate, but sometimes it’s a last resort.”

He went on to say that foodborne illness deaths and injuries always result from mistakes:

“There is not one foodborne illness outbreak I’ve been involved with in 20 years where it couldn’t have been prevented had people been paying attention,” he said.

He left the food bank officers with the same advice he gives food manufacturers and retailers: Treat those you serve like family and keep both your employees and your customers well aware of safe food handling practices.

“For the most part, you’re not liable if there’s a foodborne illness outbreak,” he told the audience. “Clearly, I have no way of making you want to be safe. As a lawyer, there’s nothing I can do to make you do the right thing. As a lawyer, you can ignore me. As a human being, I ask you to be responsible.”

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