Monday, December 11, 2006

Take this pitch and shove it

Covering food-borne illnesses for the last week hasn’t been pleasant, and not merely because the volume has been unparalleled (about 1,400 people sickened in at least five outbreaks involving five well-known restaurant operations). The unease is more a result of the yuck factor: Journalists have to eat, too, and we in the foodservice media probably do it more often in restaurants, including chain facilities, than your typical E.coli-averse person.

What increases the nausea are the walking chancre sores who see kidney failure and the hospitalization of kids as an opportunity to land some ink. Since news reports of the E.coli and norovirus situations first emerged, we’ve been besieged by parties who smell an opportunity. This one has a widget that certainly would have averted an E.coli outbreak like the one that hit Taco Bell. Curiously, Company B has a miracle-working gizmo that’s even better, and is willing to grant us an opportunity to learn why it outstrips everything offered by respectable suppliers with proven products.

More lawyers than you’d normally see behind an ambulance have called because they have some thoughts on E.coli-related litigation that would be great fodder for our stories, if not the basis for an article just on them. Translation: Write me up and maybe someone reading it might hire me to sue a restaurant chain on their behalf.

Ditto for insurance advisors, who merely want to explain in print how essential it is to have coverage against a food-safety catastrophe. It’ll all be totally generic, they assure us. It’s merely a coincidence that the form of coverage they recommend is exactly the sort their firm offers. Sorry, but I’m only taking calls from the Geico lizard from this point forward.

Then there are the consultants who know precisely what mistakes an afflicted chain made that resulted in the outbreaks, and want to enlighten our readers at absolutely no charge. Right. From their in-home study, they were able to determine sight-unseen what the likes of Taco Bell and Applebee’s were too dumb to realize. Never mind that some of the affected restaurants appear to be victims themselves, stung by produce that was likely contaminated when it was still in the ground.

They’re like plastic surgeons standing at the sight of a serious car crash, passing out business cards.

Actually, there’s a name for opportunists who feed on tragedy like that. Oh, gosh, what is it again? Oh, yeah, I remember now—maggots.

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