Give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credit for this: It’s handling the Taco Bell salmonella outbreak much better than the outbreak in summer 2008.
But the CDC still isn’t doing what it said it would do during outbreaks. It issued a release on Aug. 4 about the outbreak but declined to name the restaurant chain, which local food safety specialists confirmed was Taco Bell.
It has also declined to speculate as to what food item might be involved.
So far, so good.
But then, it hasn’t been available to media as of Aug. 12, while speculation has risen. High profile food safety attorney Bill Marler said on his blog and in news stories he thought fresh vegetables are the guilty party based on past outbreaks, and a CDC investigator called that speculation “logical” Aug. 7 before the agency clammed up.
In fact, The Packer’s repeated attempts to reach the CDC for more information didn’t yield a response until Aug. 11, when a spokeswoman said little more than to explain that the CDC isn’t a regulatory agency, so it doesn’t have responsibility of identifying products or naming restaurants in recalls.
That would be up to state health authorities, who do the investigations, she said.
The CDC won’t name a product or restaurant until the FDA does. And she said the FDA hasn’t identified one.
It is tempting to say CDC can’t control media speculation, and it certainly shouldn’t add to it, as it did in the summer of 2008. But it could answer media inquiries more effectively.
That would at least dim the spotlight on fresh vegetables unless or until they’re proven guilty of making people sick from salmonella.
As public relations 101 teaches, being evasive with the press — or even the appearance of such — is never a good strategy, even for government agencies.
Did The Packer get it right? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.