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Food Safety News Hands Santa Nice List Nominees for 2014

Merry Christmas!

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!

Jeff Almer

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.

Tom Vilsack

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.

Dana Dziadul

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!

Mike Taylor

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.)

Sandra Eskin

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.”

Michele Simon

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.

Amy Nordyke

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!

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Naughty and Nice Nominations Now Due

Traditions mean more to us at Food Safety News than the town of Waging, Germany. You may have read about it. It’s the town in the Alps where the gentleman who long played Santa just decided to retire with no obvious successor.

The town decided to take this opportunity to dump Santa. It held a contest for teenage girls who competed to be the German town’s new Waging angel. Their hope is that the young angel will attract more holiday shoppers and tourists than their old, reliable St. Nick did.

During each of the five previous Christmas seasons that Food Safety News has been around, we’ve established publishing “Naughty and Nice” lists as one of our traditions. We’ve used the annual Naughty and Nice lists to call for extra recognition for those individuals who’ve done more or less for food safety than might be expected.

A lot about the Santa Claus story has evolved over the years. His bright red-on-white dress first appeared in a Coca-Cola advertisement that brightened up a Great Depression-era Christmas. Before that, Santa’s colors were blue, green, brown and gold.

Like Santa adopting those colors from Coke, he picked up the Naughty and Nice list from Nordic folk stories about a magician who rewarded good children while punishing the bad.

What this teaches us is that you don’t want to make wholesale changes in your Christmas traditions, but tweaks are acceptable. For our first five years, nominations for both the Naughty and Nice lists came entirely from the news and editorial staff of Food Safety News.

Either because he’s grown weary of our humor, or because he truly is a populist man of the people and friend to all, our publisher has suggested we open the nomination process to all Food Safety News readers.

So here’s the deal: If you wish to make one or more nominations to the Food Safety News Naughty or Nice lists for 2014, simply email me at [email protected]

We publish the lists on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so the sooner you send me your suggestions, the more likely they will be included. The key consideration is how the individual (preferred) or organization helped or harmed food safety during the year.

For reference, here are the Naughty and Nice lists from last year.

We wish Waging’s new town angel all the best. We just would never go that far.

Food Safety News

The Annual Food Safety News Christmas Day ‘Nice List’

Editor’s note: We continue with our Food Safety News holiday tradition by publishing our fifth annual Christmas Day “nice” list, calling out a few folks we think are worthy of some positive mention based on their contributions to food safety during the past year. This year, we separated the “naughty,” published yesterday, from today’s “nice.” If you missed the first one, just scroll down. Now, we give you the “nice:”

Dr. William Keene, who was Oregon’s senior state epidemiologist, died Dec. 1 at the far-too-early age of 56. He left behind a reputation as one of the nation’s best food detectives and one of the most dedicated investigators of foodborne illness. His passing is a big loss for the Oregon Public Health Division, which he helped build into one of the best in the nation. His passion for providing closure to victims of foodborne illnesses will be missed by all.

Deirdre Schlunegger and Nancy Donley, CEO and top spokesperson, respectively, of Chicago-based STOP Foodborne Illness, for the group’s 20 years of dedication serving victims of foodborne illness. The group formerly known as Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) fulfills a unique role in the food safety community by providing advocacy, victim support, outreach and education.

Sandra Eskin, food safety director for The Pew Charitable Trusts, whose leadership of this non-governmental organization, along with her Food Safety Project team (Juliana Ruzante, Colin Finan, Ben Kessler and Sarah Branzelle), contributes much that advances the cause of food safety with sound research, comment and constructive criticism of both regulatory agencies and the food industry.

Dr. Elisabeth A. Hagen, USDA’s recently departed under secretary for food safety, left government in mid-December after serving 1,211 days as the nation’s highest U.S. Senate-confirmed food safety official. She left behind a zero-tolerance policy for six strains of pathogenic E. coli in raw beef, new “test and hold” requirements and tougher standards for controlling both Salmonella and Campylobacter. Prior to her appointment as under secretary by President Obama, she was USDA’s chief medical officer. The Harvard-trained medical doctor will now join the Deloitte business consultancy.

Sarah Schacht, a two-time victim of E. coli outbreaks that were 20 years apart, wants to improve restaurant grading in Seattle. Schacht was first sickened in the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak when she was 13, and then had her second encounter with E. coli O157:H7 from dining at a Seattle Ethiopian restaurant this past February. During her latest recovery, she decided to work on improving the grading system used by the King County Health Department, which inspects Seattle restaurants. Schacht finds the system confusing and difficult to use for spotting restaurants with declining scores.

Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food and veterinary medicine, spent much of 2013 talking to produce farmers and processors about the rules required to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). His road show took him to 20 states, Canada and Mexico. As questions about the regulations mounted, he remained available to the media and politicians of all stripes. And, in the end, he agreed to a do-over to make the process work better. A careful regulator is pretty nice to have, don’t you think?

J. Patrick Boyle, who, at the close of 2013, steps down as the longest-serving president in the 107-year history of the American Meat Institute (AMI), will be remembered as the beef industry general who fought the war against the deadly E. coli O157:H7. Early on, Boyle reacted like most others in the industry, denying that O157 should be designated as an adulterant in meat. But, once it was, Boyle was among those who kept the research dollars coming to control the E. coli threat. In his 5,000th personal blog post, food safety attorney Bill Marler (whose Marler Clark law firm underwrites Food Safety News) wrote that his E. coli in hamburger cases once represented 95 percent of his client base. Today, he stated, it is close to zero. “To the beef industry – thank you for meeting the challenge,” Marler wrote. “The millions spent on interventions, and the countless hours of food safety professionals, made the difference.” Boyle can take a victory lap on that statement alone.

Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and a professor of sociology at New York University, ended her Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle after five-and-a-half years. Luckily, Food Safety News continues to link to her Food Politics blog. As we’ve said before, you do not always have to agree with Professor Nestle to benefit from taking her classes. Few people as educated as she is can still speak and write with such clarity. The Chronicle, meanwhile, is apparently axing its much-read Food and Wine section for something having to do with lifestyle. Go figure.

Food Safety News