Whether today finds you celebrating the birth of Christ, the Winter Solstice, or about to observe Kwanzaa, the one thing everyone can agree on is that we need more nice people in this world.
Food Safety News is pleased to present our sixth-annual nominations for Santa’s nice list. As we did during the past five years, we’ve compiled a list of people who we think would be missed from the world of food safety if they were not doing what they’re doing.
Without further delay, here’s our list of nominees and why we picked them. Santa, the rest is up to you!
Six years ago this Christmas morning, Jeff Almer of Savage, MN, found himself opening presents from his mom, who had died four days earlier on Dec. 21. Shirley Mae Almer, 72, who beat cancer twice, was killed by eating peanut butter.
Shirley Almer was one of nine people who died after being infected with a deadly Salmonella strain that had contaminated peanut butter products made in Blakely, GA, by the Peanut Corporation of America.
When the jury trial of peanut-industry executives began in Albany, GA, last July, it was a surprise that he was there representing the victims and serving as a point of contact for them. Government attorneys prosecuting the case also fulfilled their duty to communicate with victims by relying on Jeff.
The trial took almost two months, but it finally delivered the justice for which Jeff had waited so long. Guilty, guilty, and guilty went the verdicts on a total of 98 federal felony counts. Jeff then got the word out to his network of other victims and friends back in Minnesota.
We expect Jeff will be back in Albany for the sentencing of the peanut-industry executives, and, in the meantime, he’ll be keeping other victims updated on what’s going on.
We’ve decided it was nice of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to stick around. We think his longevity is turning out to be a positive thing for food safety. Six years ago, there was enough to make people suspicious of the former Iowa governor. His total food-safety experience was exempting a popular Iowa restaurant from the food code section on cross-contamination.
As Secretary of Agriculture, however, his food-safety accomplishments are piling up, and he’s no longer judged merely by his statehouse record. His service continuing into President Obama’s second term is significant. No Secretary of Agriculture has “gone the distance” since former Minnesota Gov. Orville L. Freeman held the office for eight straight of the Kennedy-Johnson years.
In his year-end message, the only thing Vilsack says about food safety is that USDA answered 1.3-million questions on the subject from consumers. He should have talked about his poultry inspection reforms. But since he is staying around, maybe he’ll use the next opportunity to get that done.
When the Wake Forest, NC, girl was just 3 years old, she ate cantaloupe that was contaminated with Salmonella Poona and became infected with the pathogen.
Today, 16-year-old Dana Dziadul has written a children’s book about food-safety practices and distributes it without charge. The young victim-turned-advocate wrote “Food Safety Superstar” to teach kids four safety practices: hand-washing, table and counter cleaning, keeping cold and fresh foods cold, and making sure food is thoroughly cooked before eating it.
Her work has gotten the attention of FDA, and the book got a release at the U.S. Capitol. Nice, Dana!
If he played major-league baseball, sportswriters would be saying he is already a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame candidate and he is still on the field.
When Bill Clinton was president 20 years ago, Michael R. Taylor was the young attorney who served both as administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA. His meat-industry reforms were the most significant in 100 years and included banning E. coli O157:H7 from beef products.
When Barack Obama became president in 2009, Taylor returned to government, first as senior advisor to the FDA commissioner. About a year later, he was named Deputy Commissioner for Foods, heading up the agency’s new Office of Foods.
This time, Taylor is reforming FDA’s regulation over food by implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It puts him at the helm of the FDA team working on regulations to implement the new law. We have no doubt Taylor is going to get the job done by his open and flexible approach.
And that’s nice. (And, yes, he’s the same Mike Taylor who once worked for Monsanto.)
The food-safety shop at The Pew Charitable Trusts, run by Sandra Eskin, continues to be an irreplaceable resource we rely upon, benefiting readers in ways that are not alway obvious. We don’t want to disclose any secrets, but sometimes, like when Congressional action is occurring in a dark tunnel somewhere, we’ve often turned to Sandra and her staff to shed some light on what’s happening.
Likewise, the work of her unit is also top-drawer. Whenever you hear that victims of foodborne illness are on Capitol Hill or at some statehouse telling their real-life stories, chances are it’s because Pew organized it.
Pew’s food-safety shop also benefits from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center’s expertise in surveys on social and demographic issues that are known for being thorough and spot-on. If you’re looking for a read that will get your brain going, check out the Pew Research Center’s “14 striking findings from 2014.”
She is often on fire, especially if her target is a big corporation, but we’ve never heard anyone say that Michele Simon, JD, MPH, is not nice. A frequent contributing writer for Food Safety News, she had a breakout year of her own in 2014.
Simon is a public-health lawyer with a focus on food-industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She’s the author of “Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health,” and, “How to Fight Back,” and now she is also president of Eat Drink Politics, a watchdog consulting business.
The Oakland, CA, resident has been a food-industry writer/researcher since 1996. As an attorney, she also provides legal services to food and beverage companies (we presume the more enlightened ones) from Foscolo and Handel PLLC, The Food Law Firm, based in Sag Harbor, NY.
A mother looking for a way of improving her children’s immune systems, she hit upon the idea of giving them raw (unpasteurized) milk to drink.
“I read that as long as I knew my farmers and knew that they took all the appropriate safety measures, my family would be safe from scary bacteria. So I jumped in and added it to our diet,” wrote Nordyke in a guest commentary published by Food Safety News last Oct. 14.
It started out well enough, even with the need to travel some to keep supplied. “We really liked raw milk,” she said. Then Seamus, her 18-month-old son, was sickened with bloody diarrhea that would quickly evolve into hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS, a potentially life-threatening attack on his kidneys.
Seamus would recover, and Amy had the courage to tell her family’s story, which opened her up to comments from all sides challenging her decisions as a mother. But she hung in there and answered most of them one by one.
Nice, Amy. By sharing your thinking with other parents, you made a difference in a way that we don’t often see. Thank you!