Food trucks are hot. Diarrhea is not. We love our food in Boston and the number of food trucks and popups has made good, inventive food even more accessible than ever. Unfortunately, bad food happens.
There's bad food, and then there's food that literally makes you sick.
According to the website of foodborne illness expert litigator, Bill Marler: Salmonellosis (the disease caused by Salmonella) is the second most common foodborne illness after Campylobacter infection. It is estimated that 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis occur each year in the U.S.; 95% of those cases are foodborne-related.
When I heard about the Salmonella outbreak and its link to Clover Food Labs, I was as surprised as the next person. I've been a Clover fan since they parked at Dewey Square. I never would have suspected this outbreak from them.
Because I'm a big fan of our local farmers' markets and food trucks, people began to ask me questions. I also wondered if Clover gets its supplies from our same farmers, would I possibly have produce, meat or eggs in my fridge that I should get rid of? I set out to get more info.
I began checking various sources:
- Clover's site. Which seemed to suggest it was a statewide outbreak.
- The Executive Office of Health Human Services. Site has an "active alert" system but no information on various pages about any statewide outbreak.
- Main switchboard at EOHHS told me they had "no idea" about any statewide Salmonella outbreak.
- They referred me to Foodborne Illness. "Not us."
- They referred me to Health Labs "Epidemiology" Left message.
- They referred me to Public Health - no information.
Then I called the Public Health Commissioner's office: Cheryl Bartlett's assistant said she had no idea why there was no information on the site, agreed I shouldn't keep getting transferred or referred from office to office. She asked me to hold while she tried to find someone with an answer. No luck.
- She took my number and I got a call back from someone indicating there was an "ongoing investigation" and informed me the "active alert" button was for emergencies only, such as tornadoes. She said the outbreak "was not statewide and only 12 cases had been reported." No causation had yet been identified but there is an active investigation. I asked why the public could not get this information from the website. Why are there so many offices and not one of them who might logically be aware of an outbreak and investigation of Salmonella (a foodborne illness that one might think is a public health issue?) was able to provide any information? No answer. Why was there not even a simple message on the site indicating 12 cases had been identified and that there was an active investigation? No answer.
Talk about frustrating.
That's our nasty little bug, Salmonella.
Wherefore are Thou Inspectional Services?
I think the state, the city could do a better job at food safety. Why doesn't Boston have the rating system that California or New York use? Citizens are able to see at a glance that regular inspections are occurring, and a letter grade or a pass/fail is posted in the window of each establishment.
I guess we'd have to have regular inspections in place. This is not the first time I've tried to get information about our Inspectional Services practices and policies but clearly, we the public deserve to know SOMEONE is looking at the safety of food that is being served to us.
As rumors swirl about the food handling practices at Clover, wouldn't it be best to spend that energy asking for accountability and transparency from our tax-supported public servants charged with food safety?
I applaud Clover's attempts at transparency even while I don't agree with the handling of some of the questions, it does seem from the Globe's correction that they are guilty of some sloppy reporting.
If you want to learn more about Salmonella, there's good info on the WebMD site here as well as more detailed info and sources at Bill Marler's site.
If you want to learn more about this particular outbreak - good luck. The best I could get was "under investigation" and zero explanation for how and when the public would be privy to causation.
We should expect better from all involved.