Other U.S. media had not yet figured out that an epic food safety story was breaking on the other side of the world when Food Safety News writer Gretchen Goetz was told to break off her vacation in France and head to Hamburg, Germany.
For about a week, including the long Memorial Day weekend, Food Safety News found itself practically alone among U.S. media in covering the most deadly E. coli outbreak in recorded history. Checking every day — New York Times, NPR, and even the BBC — I was not finding much.
In addition to the “ground zero” coverage we were getting from having Gretchen in Northern Germany, others at FSN were also cranking out stories. Ross Anderson was pounding out stories that made it clear why the E coli O104:H4 outbreak is such a big deal.
The sheer numbers including most deaths ever, the disproportionate number of women victims, the alarming number of HUS cases, and the dispute about how new the O104 strain might be were all topics that readers were getting here.
In addition to helping out with interviews of European officials, Helena Bottemiller reported on Washington D.C.’s reaction and inaction. Our week of Euro-E. coli coverage was all amply handed by Mary Rothschild on our news desk in Seattle.
In any offensive, it is important to have somebody hang back in reserve in case there is a surprise development. I was actually hanging back thinking that this might yet get connected to bioterrorism. It sure read to me like something engineered in a laboratory somewhere and Hamburg has generated some bad actors.
But nobody was making any claims, suggestions or even hints of that.
As for the FSN offensive, we know when to quit. American media are over this like white on rice. We’ve told Gretchen she can come home. We will continue to cover the Euro E. coli story, we just won’t be alone any more.