In the summer of May 2019 — after skipping out on my college graduation and relentlessly hounding Marler Clark’s managing partner, Bill Marler, to give me an internship at his law firm — I set out, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, for Seattle, Washington. Besides a summer spent shadowing a criminal defense attorney, I had no legal experience.
As I was settling in on my first day at Marler Clark, Bill nonchalantly gave me my first assignment: “Hey, I need you to write up a petition urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate Salmonella as an adulterant in all meat and poultry products sold in the U.S.” Instantly I felt a surge of nerves. As the nerves subsided, imposter syndrome began to rear its head. Although I had two years of college-level food science courses under my belt, my experience relevant to the law firm’s work was limited to a single food safety and sanitation class. But determined to give the assignment my best effort, and with Bill’s assurance that I would have access to experts in the field, I set out on a three-month petition-drafting journey.
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Long story short, that is how, one summer afternoon, as a slightly hesitant but determined intern, I found myself in the charming and eclectic town of Port Townsend, Washington. There, I sat in a dimly lit bar, joined by a scientist and two seasoned lawyers, all of us engrossed in the thorough review of my 61-page draft. That is how Marler Clark’s Salmonella petition (as we now fondly refer to it) came to fruition.
More than three years later, on April 25, 2023, the USDA released a proposed determination to declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products — a first step in the right direction. This proposal was supported by various factors, one being the investigation of 14 Salmonella outbreaks and about 200 illnesses linked to these products since 1998.
But while the USDA’s proposal is encouraging, it remains a small step in the face of a much larger issue. According to the CDC, Salmonella bacteria cause a staggering 1.35 million illnesses, resulting in 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States every year. This data highlights the urgency of implementing more substantial and effective measures to address this serious problem.
The days of interning at Marler Clark are behind me, as I now proudly serve as an attorney. Yet four years have passed since the drafting and submission of Marler Clark’s Salmonella petition, and regrettably, not much has changed. Nevertheless, Marler Clark’s relentless pursuit for a safer food supply will persist, as we continue to advocate for the designation of Salmonella as an adulterant in meat and poultry products.
The experts guiding me were none other than Carl Custer, an esteemed scientist, and former USDA inspector, alongside Denis Stearns and Bill Marler, two of Marler Clark’s founding partners with a combined 60 years of experience in foodborne illness litigation and advocacy. I was in good hands.
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