Food Safety News begins its 7th week of online publication on Monday.
Believe or not, we will be having our first face-to-face staff meeting this week in Chicago.
We did have countless conference calls as our site was being developed, and on most days our editorial staff distributed in Denver, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. does a short news budget conference call at 1 p.m. eastern.
We’ve got a lot to talk about in Chicago, but one thing is clear. We have already demonstrated what a small dedicated staff focused on a single subject–ours being food safety–can accomplish.
We are finding we can break news even in Washington D.C. where you can’t spit without hitting some kind of reporter, writer, or blogger. Senate hearings really drag on and last Thursday’s meeting of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was no different.
At the end of the line for asking U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg questions was the new Senator from Minnesota, comedian Al Franken. He asked Dr. Hamburg for an update on Peanut Corporation of America and she said an active criminal investigation continues at both state and federal levels.
When other media ignored the story, our Washington correspondent Helena Bottemiller jumped on it. She mostly sought out the opinions of victims and their families about the news that there was indeed a criminal investigation into PCA underway.
She also tried to get somebody else in authority to put some clothes on the skeleton of new information from Dr. Hamburg. FDA’s own Office of Criminal Investigations dodged the bullet to the U.S. Attorney in Georgia, where PCA’s filthy peanut processing plant was located.
U.S. Attorneys are great at saying absolutely nothing, and Georgia’s is no different.
But we also learned that victims and their families have feelings. The powerful U.S. House Committee on Commerce & Energy months ago made public emails that allegedly showed that PCA President Stewart Parnell opted to ship product he knew was contaminated with Salmonella.
The result was an outbreak that killed nine, resulted in 700 confirmed illnesses, and an estimated $1 billion in economic damages. With PCA in bankruptcy, things move slowly. Not a single dollar has yet been paid out to someone injured or who lost a loved one.
Needless to say, many of the victims would sooner see criminal prosecutions against PCA and its officers than to just accept a civil judgment. The fact that they are outraged at how long it has taken for the criminal side to work comes as no surprise to those of us who talk frequently to victims of foodborne illness.
We are proud to be able to tell their stories.