Welcome to Beach Beat — I figure when your mom gives you a great byline at birth, you should use it every chance you get. I couldn’t be happier about my byline being added to the list of journalists at Food Safety News. Coral BeachIn case you missed it, or ICYMI as the millennials say, I joined the staff Jan. 4 as managing editor. For the preceding five years I was on staff with The Packer newspaper, a weekly broadsheet/online publication that has been covering the fresh produce industry since 1893. Covering food safety issues for The Packer was a perfect prelude to my new gig and I encourage everyone to visit www.thepacker.com for exceptional reporting on the fresh produce industry. Speaking of the exceptional, Food Safety News Publisher Bill Marler was recently included in the sixth annual list of “America’s 50 Most Powerful People in Food.” Known as the food safety attorney who made Jack in The Box pay for sickening and killing kids in a 1993 E. coli outbreak, Marler came in at No. 41 on the list compiled by the Daily Meal. That puts my new boss in between Rachel Ray at No. 40 and the billionaire CEO of Dole Food Co., David Murdock, at No. 42. The Daily Meal describes its Top 50 list like this: “Some people who have power in the food world have it literally — the power to make laws, disrupt the marketplace, control supply chains. Others exercise it in more subtle ways: They are the watchdogs, the inspirers, the facilitators.”

Bill Marler testifying on FSMA
In recent years, Bill Marler provided testimony for the federal government on the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011.
Depending on your perspective, Marler fits several of those categories. The folks at Chipotle Mexican Grill HQ in Denver and executives from other companies he has taken on for victims of foodborne illnesses likely have even more colorful words to describe him. But from my first interview with Marler as a news source in 2011 to the conversation we had yesterday about his current workload, he has always focused on one thing. He wants to be put out of business. He wants all entities in the food supply chain to do the right thing so there won’t be any victims to represent. That’s a dream he shares with a number of people I have met while covering the food safety beat. Lots of those people talk about how we need a “culture of food safety.” It’s one of those buzz phrases that broadcast journalists love and print editors hate. It’s great for a soundbite, but it’s too vague to mean much, as far as this news hound is concerned. I was pleasantly surprised last fall to learn that some food safety gurus don’t buy it. That surprise came while I was interviewing Walter Ram for a profile as part of The Packer’s annual “Packer 25” list of industry leaders. Ram is vice president for food safety at The Giumarra Cos., a big player in the fresh produce industry.
Walter Ram
Walter Ram, vice president for food safety at The Giumarra Cos.
Ram’s credentials include a degree in microbiology. He’s been sought out by the FDA, USDA, CDC and other public and private entities for advice and help with research.  He helped FDA develop the 2008 food safety guidance document for the fresh tomato supply line. Ram told me there is a desperate need for more government and private funding for food safety research, but he said there is one piece of the puzzle that money can’t buy. “People who talk about changing the culture to one of food safety are putting the cart in front of the horse,” Ram said in his Packer 25 profile. “Culture is a result, not a cause. To get to the culture we have to repeat practices until they become the norm. When people don’t have to remember to practice food safety, when they just do it as part of their day, that’s when you have achieved a culture of food safety.” The publisher of Food Safety News and many others on the Top 50 list this year are working toward that norm in a variety of ways. Here are a few more recent tidbits from the Beach Beat. Feds should take a lesson from this local health board The Saugus (Mass.) Advertiser reports the Board of Health there recently took a hard line with a local restaurant, Border Café, after a series of health violations and a foodborne illness that sickened an entire family. One health board member, Robert Shields, expressed concern that inspectors found violations, including dirty silverware, in follow-up checks after the outbreak. “It’s very disturbing to see this report,” the newspaper reported Shields said. “I would have assumed the follow-up inspection would have been flawless.” Board member Pam Harris weighed in: “We’re not going to put up with it. … I don’t expect to see anything like this again because it’s totally unacceptable.” General manager Chris Ruccio said the restaurant (not him, but the restaurant) was unaware of some requirements, including the need to cover trash barrels during meal service. Harris didn’t buy it and reminded him ignorance is no defense. The board chairman, William Heffernan, told Ruccio to get some professional help in the way of an independent food safety consultant, according to the local newspaper. “I can promise you that we’ll be back,” the chairman said. “And if this stuff continues to happen, I can promise you your permit will be pulled.” Connecticut’s 3rd District congresswoman crusades
Rep. Rosa DeLauro
Rep. Rosa DeLauro is the ranking member of the House appropriations committee that funds FDA. She had strong words Friday for the agency’s inability to get a handle on an ongoing, seven-month Salmonella outbreak linked to Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce cucumbers.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., referenced the ongoing U.S. and Canadian listeria outbreaks linked to Dole Food Co. bagged salads to highlight her support of overhauling America’s food safety system. She wants a single oversight agency. Currently various sub-agencies and offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health & Human Services — and other federal entities seemingly unrelated to food safety such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration — have a patch-worked maze of rules and enforcement capabilities. DeLauro urged Congress to give the Food and Drug Administration more money to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA). Appropriators in a late-2015 spending package included a $104.5 million increase, but funding for FSMA is still less than half of the original estimate of what it would cost to implement it, DeLauro said. Errors like this erode the public’s trust and drive me crazy When I got a Google news alert Feb. 2 with this headline “New stomach flu strain spreads across the U.S.” I of course stopped what I was doing to check it out. The good news is, there isn’t really a new flu bug. The bad news is a college journalist in Statesboro, Ga., apparently thinks norovirus is new and that it’s “the flu.” The reporter wrote that norovirus had just been discovered in 2015. Even a journalist in training should have been able to get this one right. The reporter did include some good info from the CDC and Mayo Clinic in terms of symptom lists and ways to avoid contracting noro, but the story was in desperate need of a fact check. Another nominee for worst headline of the week I’d already been covering Chipotle’s string of foodborne outbreaks for months at the point I joined the Food Safety News staff. It’s become part of my daily Beach Beat to check the CDC and FDA for updates. The CDC announced on Feb. 1 that it believed E. coli outbreaks that had begun in November and December were finally over. The next day that news was manipulated by Chipotle executives during an earnings report when they referred to the CDC as having given the Denver-based restaurant chain the “all clear.” Nothing was further from the truth, except a headline on the website of Counsel & Heal which declared “Chipotle Mexican Grill Declared Free from E. coli, CDC says.” At the very least the headline writer does not understand the role of the CDC, at the worst, the reporter has no reading comprehension skills, or simply didn’t read the CDC update. The outbreaks are over, but no federal officials have said Chipotle is free of E. coli. Everybody’s entitled to an opinion, but … I can’t help but wonder if the editorial board at Pacific Coast Business Times owns a bunch of Chipotle stock. In a short, unsigned opinion piece this week, the publication chastised the CDC. “CDC fails Chipotle by not finding outbreak source” was the headline. The editorial quoted the CDC’s update that said the E. coli source for recent outbreaks was probably a common meal item or ingredient. “That conclusion is simply not good enough. Without knowing precisely the cause of the outbreaks, how can Chipotle prevent them in the future?” the editorial writers asked. And for months I’ve been thinking Chipotle failed its customers, go figure. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)