by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Bill-Marler

Dec 6 2023

Yet another Salmonella outbreak from cantaloupe

I’m having a hard time with this one.

Once again, the FDA is warning all of us : “Do not eat, sell, or serve recalled cantaloupes or recalled products containing pre-cut cantaloupe.”

The warning lists the products implicated and all the ones that have been recalled.

The CDC says much the same:

CDC is concerned about this outbreak because the illnesses are severe and people in long-term care facilities and childcare centers have gotten sick. Do not eat pre-cut cantaloupes if you don’t know whether Malichita or Rudy brand cantaloupes were used.

As of November 30, the toll is:

Total Illnesses: 117
Hospitalizations: 61
Deaths: 2

But that’s only in the U.S.  Canada reports illnesses too: 63 sick, 17 hospitalized and 1 death.

This, mind you, is from eating cantaloupe.

It’s not that nobody knew cantaloupe poses special safety problems.  It’s grown on the ground and is hard to wash.  If it is grown anywhere near animal wastes, it has a high risk of getting Salmonella on its rind.  Cutting through the rind can move harmful bacteria on the rind into the interior.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who tracks such things, reminds us of previous lawsuits over cantaloupe food poisonings.

He also has some useful things to say about Salmonella during a Cantaloupe Outbreak – Symptoms and Treatment

Cantaloupes, he points out, might still be in season, but Salmonella should not be.

He quotes Perdue (sic Purdue) Extension on how to make cantaloupe safer: scrub and wash in very hot water.

But Marler has been quoted as saying he does not eat cut fruit (implying you should not either).

What’s infuriating about all this is that Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act to give the FDA the power to require safety plans from producers of every food under its jurisdiction.  This means cantaloupe growers are supposed to take steps—and test—to make sure the fruit is not contaminated with pathogenic bacteria.

Clearly, the system isn’t working.

The FDA needs to find out why not.

The FDA is chronically and infamously underfunded for what it is supposed to do.

Congress needs to pay attention to this issue.

Nobody should get this sick from eating cut fruit.

And if you haven’t seen the film featuring Marler (I’m in it too, briefly), take a look at Poisoned on Netflix.  It talks about cantaloupe, among other things worth knowing.

Oct 6 2023

Weekend reading: the cost of growing Romaine lettuce in California

Every now and then I run across a report about something I know absolutely nothing about but wish I did, and this is one of them—an analysis from the University of California on Sample Costs to Produce and Harvest Romaine Hearts Lettuce.

I’m particularly interested in Romaine because it is one of those foods that turns up frequently in food poisoning incidents.  Why?  Because in California and Arizona it is often grown in close proximity to Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), as shown in the Netflix film, Poisoned, in which I appear briefly.

Bill Marler, the lawyer featured in the film, does not eat bagged Romaine.  Neither do I.

The cost analysis, which concludes that it takes about $17,000 an acre to produce Romaine, does not factor in fmeasures to assure safety.

But what it does consider is impressive.  Here is just the first part of a Table that continues well into another page.

I would not have guessed.

I grow Romaine lettuce in pots on my Manhattan terrace.  All I pay for is seeds.  I’ve never gotten sick from eating it.

Apparently, industrial lettuce is an entirely different matter.

Enjoy the weekend!

Aug 9 2023

On Netflix now: Poisoned

Poisoned, the food safety film featuring the lawyer, Bill Marler,  is now available to watch on Netflix.

I wrote about earlier when I saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival.

It’s totally worth watching, and not only because I have a cameo in it.

Bill Marler explains why.  I reproduce his post with permission.

Over two months ago, while watching the premiere of the documentary, “Poisoned,” at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC, I got thinking again about how little in the past 30 years I feel I have moved the needle on food safety – pathogens and certainly, human nutrition.  Now that “Poisoned” is up on the Netflix platform, it has become the most watched documentary in the world – at least for the last few days.

The real issues to me is how do we engage the food industry, policy makers, academics and most importantly consumers, to focus on driving the numbers down on the pathogens that kill us quickly and the products that kill us over time?

I will focus on pathogens as I have for the last 30 plus years. I will leave it to some very smart people who are rightly concerned about the millions of us who become sick and die due to inadequate nutrition – especially the millions of illnesses and deaths due to heart disease, diabetes and obesity caused by ultra-processed foods, salt, sugar, and fat.

There is so much to do, and the list is long. So, what would I do with a Food Safety Magic Wand on day one?

  1. Vaccinate. The first thing I would do is mandate that all food service workers be vaccinated against hepatitis A.  Perhaps to some, not the most pressing food safety issue, but it is forefront of my mind.  In the past few months, I finished up litigation around a hepatitis A outbreak involving one ill food service work who infected nearly 50 people, hospitalizing most, killing four and causing two liver transplants.  With regret, I forced a family-owned restaurant chain to file for bankruptcy.  All of this could have been prevented by a safe vaccine that has been around for decades.  It is time for the restaurant industry and the CDC to step up.
  • Investigate. Invest in public health surveillance over human pathogens, like, ListeriaE. coli and Salmonella, etc.  A dirty truth is that most culture-confirmed illnesses are never attributable to a food source, so people never know what sickened or killed them. Not because the source was not food, but because we fail to invest adequate resources in the epidemiologists that investigate illnesses and track those illnesses to the cause. Tracking illnesses to the cause gets tainted product off the market and helps us all understand what products and producers to avoid.  We need to continue to invest in the science of whole genome sequencing, so we know with certainty which pathogens are causing which illnesses. Foodborne illness epidemiology helps us understand the root cause of an outbreak and helps prevent the next one from happening at all.
  • Relegate. Allow public health officials access, especially during an outbreak investigation, to all areas around farms that grow fruits and vegetables.  It is long past time to allow investigators access to neighboring cattle, dairy, chicken, or hog operations that spill billions of deadly pathogens into the environment, via air or water.  We need to think of our growing regions as an integrated system and that all sectors responsible need to play a role.  Access allows investigators to understand the likely cause of an outbreak, and again, what can be done to prevent the next one.
  • Advocate. Make all pathogens that can sicken or kill us adulterants.  In 1994 Mike Taylor making E. coliO157:H7 and adulterant has saved countless lives and has saved the beef industry from my lawsuits. We can do the same for all food producers, especially chicken, turkey, and pork.  Remember, in the 1990’s nearly all the lawsuits I filed were E. coli cases linked to ground beef.  Today that is zero.  Think about it.
  • Educate. Give everyone a thermometer and provide better education to middle and high school teachers and students around food safety and human nutrition policy, not in a dry, technical way, but by sharing engaging history, microbiology, patient stories, and case studies. We need to teach how and why our food can be unsafe and what consumers can do about it.
  • Consolidate. Finally, make a single federal agency out of USDA/FSIS, FDA, and the food safety parts of CDC, NOAA, and EPA, to oversee food safety and human nutrition. Making food safety and human nutrition its own agency would help increase governmental accountability,  close regulatory loopholes, facilitate the collection and sharing of information and facilitate critical change.  I might have a suggestion for someone to run it.

With the CDC estimating 48,000,000 are sickened each year, 125,000 hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food, preventing pathogenic foodborne illness is no simple matter.  And, if you consider the millions that are impacted by the lack of adequate and safe nutrition, we have a lot to do.  However, it can be done, and the six ideas above are a small start.

“Doing anything is better than doing nothing,” my Marine drill sergeant father used to say.  He used to require my brother and I to make our beds every morning and bounce quarters on them.  For the longest time I thought this was punishment.  But it was not punishment, it was accomplishment, that you could build on for the rest of the day.  Doing “little” things, like the six things above, are accomplishments. Doing them starts a process that will continue to make all our lives just a little bit safer.

Jun 28 2023

Unify the FDA’s food programs—says Congressional Ag Appropriations

Once again I am indebted to Bill Marler for keeping me informed about items related to food safety: Publisher’s Platform: The House Appropriations Committee Directs the FDA to Restructure – will it be Ignored? 

He points to this item on page 79 of the House Agriculture Appropriations bill.

I’ve written about problems with the FDA’s oversight of food and food safety previously (see this for example).

Food has always been a stepchild at the FDA, getting much less attention than drugs or medical devices.  When I was on the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee in the early 1990s, the FDA seemed to be trying to do better but that committee did not last long.  In any case, we were not advising the FDA on what it was proposing to do; we were giving the FDA a notion of the response to decisions it had already made.

What’s needed now is to unite the three units of FDA that deal with food: the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Veterinary Medicine’s food oversight programs, and the office that overseed food regulations.

And bring back the Foods Advisory Committee and listen to its advice.

The FDA commissioned a report on what it should do (see Reagan-Udall Foundation report and my comments on it).

What will happen now?  As Bill Marler puts it, “Grab the popcorn.”

Here’s what the FDA says it’s doing (thanks to Jerry Hagstrom’s Hagstrom Report for the links)

This does some of what’s needed but the organization charts still look complicated, and the more complicated an organization chart, the least likely it is to work.

Will this work?  Bill Marler says it might.  Grab the popcorn indeed.

Jun 16 2023

Weekend viewing: Poisoned!

Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food, a Netflix documentary about food safety in the U.S., premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and I got to go.

It’s based on the book by Jeff Benedict about the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 poisonings in 1993, and features Bill Marler, the lawyer who represented the families of kids who got sick or died from eating undercooked hanburgers contaminated with that especially toxic form of E. coli.  

I got to go to the premier because I’m in it—one of the many talking heads.

From left to right: Alexa Ginsburg, Associate Producer; Kristen Lazure, Producer; Bill Marler, food safety lawyer and Poisoned star; Ross Dinerstein, Producer; Jeff Benedict, Author of Poisoned; Christine Haughney, Journalist; Sarah Sorscher, CSPI; Me; Darin Detwiler, father of boy who died from eating a Jack in the Box hamburger and food safety advocate; Stephanie Soechtig, Director.

My interview for this was so long ago—prepandemic?—that I had forgotten all about it.  I may be prejudiced but I think the film is terrific.

It really lays out what’s wrong with our food safety system and what needs to be done to fix it.  I thought I knew this stuff pretty well—see my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety—but I learned a lot from it, partly because the photography is so well done.

Some images are unforgettable (spoiler alert):

  • The children hooked up to tubes in hospitals.
  • Their grieving parents.
  • Vast confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) right next to fields of vegetables.
  • Representatives of the USDA and FDA: “the US has the safest food supply in the world.”
  • Bill Marler saying that he no longer has cases of people sick from eating hamburger since the USDA declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant.

It’s really worth seeing.

While waiting for Netflix to schedule it, Marler explains how you can see it on Tribeca at Home.

At Home Virtual Screenings will take place June 19 – July 2

    • Browser:
      • Members can use their login credentials (email & password) to access the At Home portal.
      • Single ticket holders can redeem their 9-digit voucher code for their screening. This code can be found in the confirmation email.
    • App: “Tribeca At Home”/ Available on Apple TV, Fire TVRoku
    • TV:
      • Download the OTT app for Apple TV (Gen4 and above), Fire TV, or Roku
      • Chromecast [3rd generation or later Chromecast stick] from a computer using the Chrome browser or an Android device to your TV.
      • Airplay from a computer, iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV (Gen 4 and above) or to any Smart TV bearing the “AirPlay” badge.
      • Connect your laptop to your TV via HDMI, VGA, or DVI cables.
    • Computer:
      • PCs running Windows 7+ [Browsers: Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera]
      • Intel-based Macs running macOS 10.12+  [Browsers: Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera]
      • *Internet Explorer is not supported
    • iPhone / iPad / Android:
      • Android: use Chrome on Android 6.0 or later
      • iPhone/iPad: use Safari on iOS 11.2 or later

It will get to Netflix evenually.  Watch out for it.

Mar 14 2023

Alarming (in)action from the FDA

Last week I posted about Bill Marler’s “Take the F out of the FDA” campaign.

Since then, he additionally posted letters from the FDA that make it clear how poorly the agency is doing its job to protect all of us against foodborne illness.

Let’s start with the the agency’s March 8 letter to companies making infant formula.

The agency is asking—not requiring—infant formula companies to:

  • Evaluate their systems for ensuring safety
  • Comply with existing regulations
  • Follow existing rules, and
  • “Voluntarily notify the Agency any time a product sample is found to be positive for Cronobacter spp. or Salmonella, even if the affected lot(s) have not been  distributed.”


The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 gave the FDA the authority to ensure safe food by requiring HACCP-like process controls at every stage of production.

Infant formula is the sole source of food for many babies.

The formula crisis of last year, where Abbott Labs produced formula contaminated with Cronobacter and Salmonella, meant that Abbott was not following the law and should have been required to clean up its act instantly.

Companies are supposed to test to make sure their process controls are working.

If FSMA did not require companies to notify the FDA when they found contamination, the FDA should be going to Congress to get that authority to announce its rulemaking to get that authority.

This is not a time for politeness.  Infants’ lives are at stake.

The FDA may argue that it cannot take action because so few companies make infant formula (illustrating why industry consolidation is not good for society).

But it must.  Marler is clear on what the FDA needs to do.

  • Put an inspector in every infant formula plant, 24/7.
  • Require product testing and report results to the CDC (to compare with illness).
  • Lobby to make Cronobacter a reportable infection (to reveal the extent of the problem).

To demonstrate the ineffectiveness of politeness, Marler also posted this 2005 letter from the FDA to lettuce growers (“we strongly encourage your industry to begin or intensify immediately efforts”)….  This was followed a year later by the Dole spinach recalls of 2006 (199 cases, 102 hospitalizations, 3 deaths) and many others, leading up to congressional action in passing FSMA.

It’s the FDA’s job to enforce FSMA.

If the FDA is too captured by industry to do that, let’s get the F out of it and into some place that is serious about doing something about food safety.

FDA Commissioner Califf ‘s tweeted response to Marler’s campaign—a thread of 14 tweets— is not reassuring.

There should be no question in anyone’s mind that the F in FDA is a top priority for me. We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in the last 10 years to make the American food supply as safe as it’s ever been & improve the nutritional quality of foods. 
Not only does the U.S. have one of the safest food supplies in the world, we’ve also advanced our capabilities to detect pathogens. We’re now detecting more outbreaks & safety issues using modern methods like Whole Genome Sequencing that would have eluded detection in the past….
Creating a new foods agency isn’t in the FDA’s purview and would take years to put in place and distract from the important work that needs to be done today.
Right.  So do it.  Unsafe infant formula is a national scandal, unacceptable by any standard.
Addition: FoodFix reports this morning that the FDA has requested some of this authority in its legislative proposal (see page 4).as part of the Biden administration’s fiscal 2024 budget request that was unveiled Thursday (see page 4).
Jul 20 2022

The Daily Harvest recall mystery: update

Breaking news: The ingredient that caused the illnesses among people who consumed Daily Harvest’s French Lentil + Leek Crumbles has been identified, sort of.  As suspected, it’s the tara flour.  But what’s the toxin in the tara flour?  That, we still don’t know.

As Rachel Drori, the CEO of Daily Harvest, explains in her latest update (all are here).

At this time, we have identified tara flour as the cause of the issue. Our extensive investigation has involved many experts analyzing data from all sources. We have only used this ingredient in French Lentil + Leek Crumbles and we are no longer sourcing from this producer who does not provide any ingredients for our 140+ other items. This was the first and only time we’ve used tara flour, which has been available and used in the North American market as a plant-based source of protein prior to our use. Our investigation team will continue working with the FDA, the tara flour producer and others to help determine what specifically made people sick.

To review: Daily Harvest is a company that makes and ships preprepared vegan frozen meals, one of which, French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, has been recalled after several hundred people who ate it developed serious problems with their livers and gall bladders.

The big question: what caused these problems?

As Drori says:

We considered all possibilities, including processing issues or infection, and have ruled all of them out: Hepatitis A, Norovirus, a range of mycotoxins, including aflatoxins, food-borne pathogens including Listeria, E.Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph), B.Cereus, and Clostridium Species and major allergens including egg, soy, milk, and gluten. Testing also confirmed there are no pesticides or the presence of heavy metal levels that would have caused the reported adverse effects.

The FDA is on the case.  Its most recent accounting gives these figures:

Total Adverse Illness Events: 277*
Hospitalizations: 96*
Deaths: 0
Last illness onset: July 9, 2022*
States with Adverse Illness Events: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, IA, MD, MA, MN, MI, MO, MT, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WI
Product Distribution: Nationwide
*Estimate based on Consumer Complaint and CAERs reports received by the FDA

The FDA’s previous update noted that the company shipped about 28,000 of these specific meals between April 28 and June 17.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who represents many of the afflicted (and is filing lawsuits), says:

We have filed lawsuits in both state and federal court to more effectively push discovery against both Daily Harvest and the manufacturer of the product, Stone Gate. We need to know what is the likely common ingredient and who supplied it. We need to understand all food safety protocols and what went wrong. We need to know when these companies first were aware of the “Adverse Illness Events” and what was done with that information.

Marler’s latest summary is here.

ABC News reporter Melanie Woodrow (@Melanie Woodrow) spoke with some of the victims and their lawyers (not Bill Marler)  She Tweeted:

Spoke w/ two attorneys today who say #DailyHarvest has filed motions compelling their clients to arbitrate, meaning cases would play out in conference room not court. @DlyHarvest says customers agreed to terms that included an arbitration clause.

I truly do not understand why the toxin has not yet been identified.

This situation reminds me of how hard it was to identify melamine as the toxin in the massive pet food recalls of 2006.  I ended up writing a book about this case: Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.

While waiting for answers, let’s all wish the victims a speedy recovery.

Jul 5 2022

What’s up with the Daily Harvest recall?

Daily Harvest is a company that makes vegan meals, mostly organic, and freezes them for home delivery.

By mid-June, it had received 470 complaints from customers who ate a new product, French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, but developed severe liver and gall bladder problems.  On June 23,  Daily Harvest issued a recall of the product “due to potential health risk” (also see After 470 reports of illnesses, Daily Harvest recalls French Lentil + Leek Crumbles).

I was especially interested in this event for two reasons: Daily Harvest twice sent me meals to sample (before it introduced this one) and I knew they had to be cooked before eating, which would kill harmful microbes, and I could not imagine what could possibly cause reactions this toxic (as I explained to the New York Times).

This product’s ingredient list seems benign:

organic butternut squash, organic hemp seeds, organic cauliflower rice, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic french lentils, organic red lentils, organic tri-colored quinoa, organic cremini mushrooms, organic tara flour, organic leeks, organic parsley, water, organic cassava root flour, organic flax seeds, organic sacha inchi powder, chia seeds, organic porcini powder, himalayan sea salt, organic apple cider vinegar, organic onion powder, nutritional yeast, organic garlic powder, organic tomato powder, organic white pepper, organic coriander seeds, organic mustard powder, organic thyme.

More than that, on June 25, food safety lawyer Bill Marler was asking the same question: What is it in Daily Harvest’s French Lentil and Leek Crumbles that is causing liver failure?  He was sending samples out to his own labs.

On June 28, Daily Harvest responds to customers sickened, hospitalized from 1 of its products.

On June 30, the FDA published its Investigation of Adverse Event Reports: French Lentil & Leek Crumbles

On June 17, 2022, in response to consumer complaints submitted to the company, Daily Harvest voluntarily initiated a recall of their French Lentil & Leek Crumbles…From April 28 to June 17, 2022, approximately 28,000 units of the recalled product were distributed to consumers in the continental United States through online sales and direct delivery, as well as through retail sales at the Daily Harvest store in Chicago, IL, and a “pop-up” store in Los Angeles, CA. Samples were also provided to a small number of consumers. Daily Harvest emailed consumers who were shipped the affected product, and other consumers for whom the company had contact information and consumers were issued a credit for the recalled product. Consumers who may still have the recalled product in their freezers should immediately dispose of it.

On July 1, the FDA announced the recall and issued an advisory for these events.


Rachel here – I want to give you another update on the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles recall. As you know, we’ve been conducting exhaustive testing over the course of the last two weeks. Despite this, we still have not identified a possible cause. I am sorry that it’s taking as long as it is to pinpoint exactly what may have made people sick. We are deeply committed to finding answers for those impacted. We’re working with top doctors, microbiologists, toxicologists as well as 3 independent labs.   While additional testing is underway, results to date rule out the following:

  • Hepatitis A

  • Norovirus

  • A range of mycotoxins, including aflatoxins

  • Food-borne pathogens including Listeria, E.Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph), B.Cereus, and Clostridium Species

  • Major allergens including egg, soy, milk, and gluten

I assure you, we will not stop until we get to the bottom of this. We’re continuing to work in close cooperation with the FDA, CDC and other health agencies. The FDA released an update on their investigation yesterday, which can be found here on their website.

I’m baffled.  I can’t understand why toxin testing hasn’t come up with anything.  The illnesses are real and all traced to this product.

The FDA’s recommendation: “Consumers should not eat, sell, or serve recalled products. Consumers who may still have the recalled product in their freezers should throw it away.”

Bill Marler agrees with don’t eat it, but he wants the product saved as evidence.  He has questions and suggestions:

His hypothesis: the Tara ingredient.

We believe that the illnesses may well be linked to a common ingredient called Tara that comes exclusively from Peru (this due because it is a unique ingredient to the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles AND to certain Revive Smoothies where people are reporting identical symptoms).

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Tara:

Tara gum…is produced by separating and grinding the endosperm of T. spinosa seeds…The major component of the gum is a galactomannan polymer similar to the main components of guar and locust bean gums that are used widely in the food industry….Tara gum has been deemed safe for human consumption as a food additive… Medicinal uses in Peru include gargling infusions of the pods for inflamed tonsils or washing wounds; it is also used for fevers, colds, and stomach aches. Water from boiled, dried pods is also used to kill fleas and other insects.

Bill Marler is on the case.  He has 175 clients so far.

I’ve heard privately from people who experienced sickness after eating this product.  I’ve read about others like this one:

I wish everyone a speedy recovery, and hope the toxin gets identified soon.  Stay tuned.