Food Safety News is often named as a trusted source by other media, which adds to our credibility as a valued asset. Anything that devalues our credibility concerns us greatly. We experienced one of those devaluing events this week.
Two Food Safety News stories which were published almost one year apart — and had nothing to do with one another except that both dealt with oysters — were mangled together with others by a news website previously unknown to us called “Food World News.”
In their story, written by a newly minted reporter, the New York-based news site reported on Aug. 13, 2013 that: “The state Department of Public Health issued a warning against the largest oyster producer in California on Friday, after three people’s illnesses was linked back to oysters, according to Food Safety News.”
It went on to say the oysters were from the Drakes Bay Oyster Company and included information from both the Huffington Post and the Oakland Tribune, before again citing Food Safety News for reporting the Drakes Bay oysters were sold in Wegmans stores between July 13 and Aug. 5, 2013.
The Food World News story was entirely false.
The California Department of Pubic Health did not issue a warning, there was no recall of Drakes Bay oysters, nobody was sickened by Drakes Bay oysters, and Drakes Bay has never sold a oyster directly or though any broker to Wegman’s. “Oyster Recall: Drakes Bay Oyster Linked to Bacteria Illnesses; Shellfish Sold from Wegmans,” by Food World News was entirely taken down by the website after folks working for Drakes Bay filed their objections.
Any company wrongly named in such a story can be expected to push back, but Drakes Bay is involved in a life and death struggle with the U.S. Department of Interior and California Coastal Commission, which is apparently in cahoots with some of the largest environmental groups who want it shut down. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has an anger management problem, refused to renew its lease just before he resigned.
However, many conservationists and environmentalists from the region, including those who originally called for protection of the estuary, see a place for the oyster business and support another long-term lease for Drakes Bay. The struggle has gone on for a long time and with the government side, especially the National Park Service, being charged by Drakes Bay with running what amounts to disinformation campaign. They have not said this is part of that, but Drakes Bay is trying to get to the bottom of this one.
When you drop a false story into this sort of mix and it is immediately tweeted by the opposition, you can at least understand why the Drakes Bay folks might be a little paranoid. Big forces really are out to get them.
Still, in trying to piece this together on my own, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most likely explanation for what happened was a few missteps by the newbie reporter.
First, last Saturday (Aug 10), Food Safety News did report on the recall of Cape Neddick/Blue Point oysters by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture for possible Vibrio contamination. The oysters were sold at Wegmans stores, between July 13 and Aug 5, 2013.
Second, the trigger for doing their story, according to what little the Drakes Bay people have been able to get out of Food World News, was a Google alert. Nobody else has seen it, but it’s possible. Every once in a while, old stories show up as new on Google alerts, usually due to some change, even very minor ones. As a result, we always check dates and time stamps, but it’s possible to be fooled.
And, third, there was a warning about a few lots of Drakes Bay oysters sent out by the CDPH last year at the very time in question (Aug. 13, 2012). If one those reports was recycled on its anniversary date, and an inexperienced reporter then went looking for what else was available on the same subject, a mess of a story could be the result.
And a mess it was. Just not ours.© Food Safety News